A Whole New Ballgame
Posted by: Frank MacDonald
No sooner had Matt Hasselbeck given the ball to Robinho, and the Brazilian superstar started juggling it.No sooner had Matt Hasselbeck given the ball to Robinho, and the Brazilian superstar started juggling it.
First the feet then up to the thighs before bringing it to rest on the back of his neck.
And this ain’t no sphere, no soccer ball. This is all-American pigskin in the shape of a zeppelin.
“It was impressive,” says Hasselbeck, the Seahawks starting quarterback and fledgling follower of futbol. “There he is taking one of our footballs, juggling it all over and making it look effortless.”
Hasselbeck and three teammates–Baraka Atkins, Olindo Mare and Mike Wahle–paid a visit to Qwest Field for Brazil’s training session prior to the May 31 date with Canada.
More than a publicity stunt, the three Seahawks saw the practice and the match as must-see opportunities. No arm twisting required.
Not to be Missed
“I’m a fan of the game, and if the Brazilian national team is in town, you should go see them, even if you’re not a sports fan,” says Atkins. “They’re one of the top three teams in the world every year, and I couldn’t miss it.”
Atkins plays defensive end, but back in the day he was a stopper of a different sort.
“I played soccer up until I was in high school,” he says. “That’s when I first began playing football. I was getting too big (now listed at 6 foot 4, 268 pounds) to chase and take the ball away from those quick little guys.”
The game jersey given to Atkins will never be worn, although not for the reason you might think. “No, it wouldn’t fit,” acknowledges Atkins. “But with those signatures on it, I’m thinking of framing it.”
It comes as no surprise that Mare, a place-kicker, comes from soccer stock. The world’s game is in his blood. His Italian-born dad played and is a huge Juventus fan. Mare played striker in the premier amateur level until going on to kick for Syracuse.
While setting field-goal records for the Miami Dolphins, he followed the MLS Fusion and was often invited to kick-arounds with teams touring South Florida. “It’s my passion,” says Mare of soccer.
From time to time at practice Mare will juggle a football for fun. Still, he was amazed at Robinho.
“For him to do it right out of the gate like that was really impressive,” Mare says. “It’s harder than you think. You could hit the point of the ball, the side, but he picked it up right away.”
Look Matt, No Hands
Unlike Mare, Hasselbeck’s family is rooted deeply in the gridiron game. Three years ago, when Chelsea trained at Seahawks headquarters, he began getting acquainted with pro soccer, up-close and personal.
“When you see it firsthand, it’s different,” Hasselbeck says. “The things those Chelsea players did with their feet was amazing.” Their hands, however, are another matter.
“These guys have incredible amounts of athletic ability, but they can’t catch a football,” Hasselbeck jokes. “I offered Robinho a chance to go out for a pass, and he showed us his hands and more-less said, ‘these don’t work.’”
Answering questions following a cold, rainy mini-camp practice, Hasselbeck admired Brazil’s team spirit.
“They are such a team. The Brazil players were talking with each other, young guys and old guys having a lot of fun.”
Adds Hasselbeck, “When we’ve been successful, we’ve had that chemistry; playing loose, being creative and having fun. They had that kind of thing going on.”
The Biggest Fan of All
Without a doubt, the Seahawks have no bigger fan of international soccer than Mike Wahle. Standing 6-6 and weighing 304, the Pro Bowl offensive tackle is regularly tuning into Euro 2008, and he says teammates in the lunchroom have not asked him to turn the channel.
“We’re starting our own little fan base here,” says Wahle. “Olindo’s a big fan, Matt’s getting into it and we had 20-25 guys at the Brazil game loving it.”
Wahle’s eyes were opened by the 2006 World Cup, and he’s been captivated ever since.
“When you go to other countries and see how passionate they are about it, it piques your interest,” Wahle says. “The players’ athleticism, the way they can see the whole field, the mastery they have of manipulating the ball. The things they can do and the hours of practice it must take, especially to be on a national team, is something very special.”