By Scott M. Johnson
KIRKLAND — Robbie Tobeck is up on his pulpit. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
The Seattle Seahawks’ center, team captain and, at 31, the old man of the offense, is going on about the young players not appreciating what it means to play in the NFL. He’s talking about having to pay your dues and waxing poetic about back when I was a rookie …
Then the subject turns to rookie teammate Steve Hutchinson, and Tobeck’s mood changes.
"He’s a humble guy who brings his lunchbox to work every day and puts in his time," Tobeck says. "Some of these other young guys, we’ve got our work cut out for us."
So it would only seem logical that Hutchinson would be immune to any rookie initiation treatment from his veteran teammates.
While the Seahawks offensive linemen gather around the locker room for their daily post-practice rap session, Hutchinson’s first stop is the cooler, where he piles his Sequoia-sized arms with bottles of Gatorade. The 6-foot-5, 311-pound rookie will then dutifully walk down the line and pass out drinks to each of his fellow linemen.
"That’s part of (being a rookie)," Hutchinson said. "The way I see it is, for this year I’m going to be doing all that stuff, and for the next however many years I’m in this league, people are going to be doing it for me. Doing it for one year is worth getting it done for you."
Hutchinson got through training camp without much hassle, in part because of coach Mike Holmgren’s strict no-hazing rule. But once the regular season started, the offensive linemen quietly began putting their prized rookie to work.
"Tobeck started it kind of like, ‘Hey, boy, go get us some Gatorade.’ We call Tobeck the instigator," said right guard Chris Gray. "(Hutchinson) cussed at him. But pretty soon he got a bag and started filling it up."
Fetching Gatorade isn’t Hutchinson’s only duty. He also is responsible for bringing breakfast on occasional Fridays, and then there’s the dreaded "offensive line dinner," when the rookies take out the veterans and pick up the tab.
"I told him not to get to worried about it," right tackle Todd Weiner said. "My first time doing it, I was really worried. I was like, I’m not taking all these guys out to dinner. But then you get to enjoy it for however many years you play. It ends up being worth it."
There’s something about watching a three-time All-American acting as some sort of subservient to his older teammates, so Hutchinson’s duties are almost comical.
Not that he’s the only rookie lineman to go through the ritual. Seattle’s other two first-year linemen, Dennis Norman and Pork Chop Womack, have their share of duties as well.
"We’ve been getting on those guys, but they’ve been coming through with Krispy Kreme donuts lately, so they’ve been making up for it," Weiner said. " (Womack) comes in here with eight boxes, and four of them are empty. He tries to say that they only had four dozen."
All of the rookies have fun with the teasing, even if they look silly catering to their elders. And they still respect Tobeck, even though he’s the obvious chairman of the veteran board.
Tobeck takes pride in putting the rookies in their place.
"Somebody has to," he said. "Some of these other guys are too nice. Chris Gray, Walter (Jones), sometimes they’re just a little too nice."
Proof that there are no hard feelings comes in the relationship between Tobeck and Hutchinson. The two linemen share a hotel room on the road, and push each other at practices.
"Getting the Gatorade and having to get breakfast on Fridays, it’s not bad," Hutchinson said. "It could be a hell of a lot worse."
Tobeck’s immediate rewards are obvious. But he’s got a long-term plan, too.
"I’ll always be able to say I taught him everything he knows," Tobeck said with a wink. "He really wasn’t that good when he first got here, but I’ve been working with him and he’s stepped it up."