Hasselbeck takes sixth-grader to school



By Gregg Bell

ISSAQUAH, Wash. – Matt Hasselbeck woke up before dawn. His young son Henry had been up much of the night crying, but the black stretch limousine arrived anyway at 6:55 a.m.

By 7:30 the Seahawks quarterback was inside Andy Co’s house in an upper-class subdivision of this Seattle suburb, awed by a picture of his new sixth-grade pal, his brother and sister atop an elephant during a family vacation to Thailand.

Andy fiddled with the oversized NFC championship ring Hasselbeck gave him to wear for the morning.

“Is that a real elephant?” Hasselbeck said. “At least it’s chained to a tree.”

Hasselbeck’s Seahawks lost to Andy’s 49ers in a video game – yes, Seattle (2-10) even loses in the virtual world these days. Then it was off to Issaquah Middle School in the limo with Andy, his brother and parents Dickson, who works in Microsoft’s financial department, and Judy, an educator for special-needs teens.

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    Wearing his white, No. 8 Seahawks jersey, Hasselbeck led a school assembly on the importance of staying physically active. He jumped rope and did stretches with a gym class until a fire alarm rang.

    What was the three-time Pro Bowl passer doing standing in the rain during a school fire drill on his only day off of the week in this miserable season?

    Hasselbeck was one of a dozen players around the league who took contest winners to school Tuesday as part of the NFL’s “Play 60” program, which encourages youth to get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day.

    The goodwill gesture came at an ideal time for the NFL, with players across the league facing questions about guns.

    New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress was charged Monday with illegal weapons possession after he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh at a club last weekend.

    Hasselbeck acknowledged palling around with Andy and his middle-school friends was even more important this week.

    “When you’re a professional athlete, it’s your job to perform on the field and on the court or whatever,” he said after coming back into the gym following the fire drill. “But it’s also part of your job to be a role model in the community.”

    Hasselbeck said Burress’ situation was discussed in the Seattle locker room, and he cautioned against casting all professional athletes in a similar light.

    “It’s unfortunate a few guys around all the different leagues have kind of gotten jammed up and made some poor decisions, but I think it’s something you learn at a young age,” he said.

    “There’s lot of the guys in the league doing this, giving up their day off to come to school. I think it’s a thrill for the kids, but I think it’s really important that we come in and reinforce what these teachers are telling them. I enjoy it.”

    Hasselbeck is three games into his return from a bulging disk and nerve problem that cost him five games. This has been perhaps the worst and most disappointing season of the 33-year-old’s career. Yet he had his usual wit and deadpan humor all morning.

    Andy’s family moved to Seattle from the Philippines two years ago. He wanted to play football this season but broke his arm, his disappointment fading only when he won Hasselbeck’s visit in an online contest.

    He chose San Francisco and left Hasselbeck with Seattle in the Madden video game on the family’s Nintendo Wii.

    “So we’re playing at Qwest Field? I appreciate you giving me home-field advantage,” Hasselbeck cracked. “We need it.”

    At school, Hasselbeck told the students how his parents, including Don, a former NFL tight end who played for New England and remains a die-hard Patriots fan, didn’t allow him to play football growing up in the Boston suburbs until he was 12.

    He stayed active running cross country and playing baseball – and freeze tag.

    “I don’t know, do people still play freeze tag?” he asked.

    He took questions from students, many of whom were wearing his jersey.

    “Do you think girls should be allowed to play in the NFL?” one girl asked.

    “Girls can play in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger plays for the Steelers, right?” Hasselbeck said, in a playful flashback to Seattle’s Super Bowl loss three seasons ago.

    “Joking. Totally joking. That was a joke,” Hasselbeck said, chuckling.

    Andy was totally stoked.

    He proudly walked the school’s halls with his older brother soon after Hasselbeck left in the limo following a 90-minute stay.

    “It was cool,” Andy said. “He’s a normal guy who’s just really good at football.”