Titans’ QB battle a friendly affair between pals

RENTON — Back when the roles were reversed, when Matt Hasselbeck was the young quarterback competing with a veteran for the starting job, he wasn’t about to turn to Trent Dilfer for advice.

It wasn’t that Hasselbeck didn’t respect Dilfer, or think that the former Super Bowl champion didn’t have wisdom to impart. Hasselbeck just couldn’t figure out why a man fighting for his job would help the guy trying to take it.

“When Trent in 2001-2002 was trying to help me I was really cautious, like ‘Why would you try to help me? You should be trying to take my job,’” Hasselbeck said on a conference call. “And I didn’t accept any of his help. I almost didn’t like him, I was like, ‘You must think I’m a moron, I’m not falling for this.’”

Yet Hasselbeck learned in time to trust Dilfer and become his friend even while eventually taking his job. And a decade later, now that Hasselbeck is the one fighting off a young challenge, he is dealing with a pupil who is much more trusting and willing to learn in former University of Washington standout Jake Locker.

“I have just been very fortunate to have him a part of my life,” said Locker, who as a new dad has leaned on Hasselbeck for more than just football guidance.

“Both as a player, and as a person, I have been going through a lot of things personally that are new to me that he has already gone through. He just has a lot of great advice; on how to deal with stuff, how to handle things.

“That’s what’s great about it, and I think what people might not realize is that it goes beyond football. I am very thankful to have had him for the time that I did, to share his knowledge with me.”

Like the Seahawks, the Tennessee Titans are unsettled at quarterback, and by chance they begin their preseason by bringing that quarterback battle to a city very familiar to both players when the Titans and Seahawks face off at CenturyLink Field Saturday night.

A year ago, Locker was preparing for his first NFL season knowing Hasselbeck was the starter and he was the backup, but even though the job is now up for grabs, both players say their relationship remains the same.

“The relationship has been awesome, my wife and his wife are friends, he’s friends with my kids, and I’m friends with his dad,” Hasselbeck said, unintentionally highlighting the nearly 13-year age gap between them. “It fits all the way around. It’s a really, really good relationship.”

To anyone who has spent time around either quarterback — two of the genuinely good guys that sports fans in this region came to love — it is no surprise that a competition between these two would be free of animosity.

That does not, however, mean the two don’t have fun at each other’s expense. When Hasselbeck decided it was time for Locker to take over on the conference call, he yelled, “Jacob Cooper, get over here. Jacob Cooper Locker, when I call you, you get over here.”

Upon picking up the phone, Locker said, “I knew it was serious when he used my full name.”

For both players, the focus Saturday is on getting ready for the 2012 season — one that Locker hopes will be his first as an NFL starter and one that Hasselbeck hopes can add another chapter to an impressive career. But because of a scheduling coincidence, this game also has a bit of extra meaning for the two quarterbacks with deep roots in the area.

Locker, who grew up in Ferndale, was the face of the UW football program that hit rock bottom early in his career, then bounced back to win a bowl game his senior year. Scott Locker, Jake’s father, said more than 100 family members and friends from Ferndale will make the trip down to Seattle for the game.

“People up here have been so excited about this game ever since the schedule came out,” he said.

Hasselbeck, after beating out Dilfer for the starting job so many years ago, went on to become a three-time Pro Bowl player in Seattle while leading the Seahawks to six playoff appearances and the franchise’s only Super Bowl berth.

Hasselbeck’s last game in Seattle was one of his most memorable, but one that he hoped would not be the end of an era. He passed for 272 yards and four touchdowns in Seattle’s shocking playoff win over defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans, then left the field with his son Henry on his shoulders and daughters at his side.

After the lockout that followed the 2010 seasons, the Seahawks decided to move on without Hasselbeck, instead signing Tarvaris Jackson. So for Hasselbeck, who is expected to start Saturday, it will be special to play in front of Seahawks fans one more time after leaving the field with so much uncertainty after that playoff game.

“It’s a nice opportunity to experience that again, because when I left that field, I think it was against the Saints, I truly didn’t think that that was the last time I was going to play in that stadium,” Hasselbeck said. “Even though I knew it very easily could be, I just didn’t feel that in my heart.

“So it’ll be nice to get an opportunity to go back and play some football.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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