American Football: Hasselbeck leads rising of the sons

Super Bowl XL: Two proud fathers will watch their boys follow in their footsteps in America's showcase
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The Independent Online

Tonight, however, is the turn of the next generation, and the names of Hasselbeck and Tatupu are destined for a more dominant role. Don and Mosi will be in the crowd at Ford Field in downtown Detroit, watching their sons, Matt and Lofa, leading the Seattle Seahawks against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Matt is his team's quarterback, while Lofa occupies a similarly pivotal role on the defensive side, as middle line-backer. These are the two most important positions on the entire 53-man roster. Their fathers may have been extras in the Super Bowl story, but the sons are set for starring roles.

"My best sporting memory is of being with my dad at the Super Bowl," said Matt during the build-up to tonight's show. "I think I was seven years old and it was just so cool to be in LA and watching my dad win a Super Bowl. He played in the NFL my whole childhood, so I didn't think of it as anything unusual. It was a great way to grow up. I didn't really appreciate it until he was done playing, but it has definitely made certain things easier for me."

The Hasselbecks spent only one season in California before returning to their roots in New England. Don had begun his career with the Patriots and, by coincidence, had been Mosi Snr's team-mate for six seasons.

Meanwhile Lofa, seven years younger than Matt, was being raised on the East Coast, where his father remained after his career ended. Tatupu Snr coached his son in high school, but there was a parting of the ways, as divorce saw Lofa relocate to be with his mother in California. Unlike Hasselbeck, Tatupu has remained on the other side of the country, and there were times last week when the distance between father and son has appeared more than simply geographical.

Responses to questions about his father have been met with the essence of brevity, the son seemingly uncomfortable discussing family matters in public. His team-mate Isiah Kacyvenski believes that an element of resentment lies behind Lofa's relentless drive and restless energy. "Deep down, he wants to be better than his dad," he said. "I think that drives him. He wants to make sure he leaves his own mark."

Whatever the truth, Lofa has made quite an impact for a rookie considered by many to be too small and too slow to play his position. In the opinion of his coach, Mike Holmgren, Tatupu has been "the glue that holds our defence together. This young man is mature beyond his years".

There were few in Seattle who raised such sentiments around Matt Hasselbeck prior to this season. Traded to Seattle five years ago from Green Bay, Hasselbeck brought a swagger and confidence with him which many perceived as arrogance. And, as the player now admits, his critics were probably right.

"He would come in and tell us what he thought we should be doing, and that what we were doing was all wrong," said the quarterback's position coach, Jim Zorn. Players were less than enamoured of a brash new-comer who seemed to care only for himself.

Those days are gone, and without his stellar efforts this season the Seahawks would not be in Detroit. "I know I coached him hard and he was angry with me," said Holmgren, "but we have finally developed a trust and things have taken off. He's less emotional, and he's learned to be a better leader."

The contrasts between the sons are stark, but the fathers will be united tonight by pride in their sons' achievements. "You hear guys who tell you they would give anything to play in a Super Bowl," said Hasselbeck Snr. "The individual accomplishments feel great, but being with your team in the Super Bowl is unlike anything else. Matt has matured enough to get there."

"I'm so proud of the way he has handled himself," Mosi said of Lofa. "He's a smart kid, and though I played in the NFL, nothing has come easy for him. He's worked hard to get where he is, because not everyone has always believed in his ability."

Once this particular generation game has been played, the names of Hasselbeck and Tatupu should occupy a far more prominent position in the story of the Super Bowl.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Strengths: Powerful running game, intimidating defense, and a belief that this is destined to be their year. Their talisman, the running back Jerome Bettis, is set to retire after playing his last-ever game in his home town. He is today's sentimental favourite.

Weaknesses: Lack of Super Bowl experience - only one of their players has ever played in the big game. Defensive secondary may be suspect against an accurate passing attack. Coach Bill Cowher has yet to win a Super Bowl and has a poor record in big games.

Key player: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Poised beyond his 23 years, the second-youngest QB in Super Bowl history behind the great Dan Marino. But Miami's Marino lost in his only Super Bowl visit. How will Roethlisberger handle the pressure?

Seattle Seahawks

Strengths: The running back Shaun Alexander is the most productive player currently at work in the game. When he runs behind the blocks of Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Mack Strong, he is unstoppable. Coach Mike Holmgren is aiming to become the first man to lead two teams to Super Bowl glory, having achieved the feat with the Green Bay Packers nine years ago.

Weaknesses: Their receivers lack deep speed, and their defense, although fast, lacks real bulk. This group could suffer if the Steelers begin to get their famed power running game going.

Key player: Alexander. Set a league record with 28 touchdowns this season. If he gains more than 100 yards, the Seahawks will probably win, but only one runner has managed that against Pittsburgh in the past two years. Can Alexander shoulder the load for his side?