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JOESAM2002 09-05-2003 09:09 AM

ALMOST LIKE OLD TIMES .....
 
ALMOST LIKE OLD TIMES

Quarterbacks Aaron Brooks and Matt Hasselbeck, former teammates with Green Bay, will be reunited this weekend. And once again, they'll be trying to outperform the other.


Thursday September 04, 2003


By Jeff Duncan
Staff writer

For an aspiring NFL assistant like Mike McCarthy, it doesn't get much better than the summer of 1999 in Green Bay, Wis.

McCarthy recalls conducting daily film sessions as the Packers' first-year quarterbacks coach to a room full of eventual million-dollar right arms.

In one corner, perennial Pro Bowler Brett Favre dominated the room with his wit and presence.

Next to Favre, inquisitive backup Matt Hasselbeck picked McCarthy's brain with question after question.

In the back, precocious rookie Aaron Brooks took notes and soaked it all in.

"It was a good room," McCarthy said. "Those were three good guys to work with, an excellent group. It was the perfect combination of experience, youth and talent."

Four years later, McCarthy is the offensive coordinator for the Saints, Favre is winding down a Hall of Fame career in Green Bay and Brooks and Hasselbeck have moved on to starting roles for the Saints and Seattle Seahawks.

Brooks and Hasselbeck, who once battled for the backup spot behind Favre, will face off for the first time in the season opener Sunday at Seahawks Stadium.

"I'm looking forward to it," Hasselbeck said. "I think we both thought, maybe foolishly, that our chance (to start) was going to come one day. So many of the guys that had gone through Green Bay before us seemed to go on from there and play. We just assumed that we were going to get our shot next. Maybe that was naive. I'm just happy that it worked out for both of us."

Ironically, it was Hasselbeck whom the Saints first sought in trade talks with the Packers after McCarthy joined Jim Haslett's new staff in 2000. When Green Bay's asking price proved too steep, the Saints asked for Brooks instead, acquiring him, along with tight end Lamont Hall, in a July 31 trade for a third-round draft pick and linebacker K.D. Williams.

"(McCarthy) had always told me if I ever get a chance to ask for a quarterback, then I'm going to ask for you," Hasselbeck said. "There was a mutual respect. He respected me as a player, and I respected him as a coach. At the same time, I knew he liked Aaron a lot, and Aaron liked him."

A year later, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren landed Hasselbeck by trading a first- and third-round pick to the Packers. The former Boston College standout struggled during his first season and eventually lost the starting job to Trent Dilfer. But he rewarded Holmgren's patience with a strong 2002 season, including a dominant final six games.

During that span. Hasselbeck guided an offense that averaged an NFL-best 476 yards per game. The Seahawks won four of their final five games.

"The light kind of went on; it clicked for him," Holmgren said.

Hasselbeck's success didn't surprise McCarthy.

"The only thing that surprised me is that he didn't do it quicker," McCarthy said. "Matt has so many pros. He is a young player that was really in tune with his weaknesses. Matt's maturity at a young age stood out to me."

Hasselbeck impressed Brooks with another quality. After Brooks was drafted in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL draft, he challenged Hasselbeck for the backup quarterback spot. Hasselbeck won the spot with an impressive camp, and Brooks was dealt to New Orleans a year later.

"Matt is a fierce competitor," Brooks said. "We were competing for that job, and there was no way he was going to let down and let me take the position. He did a good job of preparing himself and making sure he was ready to go. He competed at all times."

Hasselbeck said the experience he and Brooks gained working behind Favre and for McCarthy hastened their development.

"Aaron was just a young kid when he first came in," Hasselbeck said. "We spent a lot of time together watching film. We were two young guys sitting in a room while we listen to Mike coach up Brett Favre. For a young quarterback, it was really a great situation early in our careers to be around those guys, and I think it's worked out real well for Aaron."

Amazingly enough, as talented as the Favre-Hasselbeck-Brooks threesome was, the group wasn't even the most accomplished in Packers history. In 1994, Favre's backups in Green Bay were Mark Brunell, Ty Detmer and Kurt Warner.

"When I was there, part of our philosophy was to draft good quarterbacks even though Brett was there," Holmgren said. "No one could have guessed Brett Favre would start 190 games in a row. The Brunells, the Detmers, the Brooks, the Hasselbecks were brought in there to teach them and prepare for that season. You knew Brett was going to be the starter and those guys would have to get a chance elsewhere, and that is what they did."


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