Some people might think that Matt Hasselbeck became a Pro Bowl quarterback and played in the Super Bowl just because of his athletic ability and that of his teammates. Others might think a mentor, like Coach Mike Homgren, might have helped lead Hasselbeck to greatness. Not many may know, however, the part a leper in Jamaica led to the success of Hasselbeck.
Matt Hasselbeck became the Seattle Seahawks all-time highest rated passer at 86.6%. He passed Dave Kreig’s percentage of 82.3 and has 1,342 completions in 2,205 attempts for 15,924 yards, 96 touchdowns, and 57 interceptions. He may have had greater success, but in 2003-2004 his receivers dropped a large number of passes, including a pass to Bobby Engram in the end zone in a 2004 Wild Card game, in a 27-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams. In 2005 he was the highest rated passer in the NFC and led his team to its only Super Bowl appearance, in Super Bowl XL, losing 21-10 to Pittsburgh.
Not many know of Matt Hasselbeck’s mission trip to Jamaica, ten years ago, when he was a sophomore at Boston College, or the impact a man who had lost his fingers, nose, and sight to leprosy had on him.
The Seattle Seahawk quarterback went on the trip and came back a different man. He went to Riverton City, a shanty town built on a garbage dump. He worked for several days in a home for elderly lepers. Matt Hasselbeck cleaned, scraped, and painted a bathroom in the home. Often, in the evenings, he joined the lepers after a day’s work for song and worship. It was there that he met George McVee, the man disfigured by leprosy.
Hasselbeck said it was difficult to look at McVee, whose leprosy was worse than anyone else’s. The quarterback said he is ashamed to admit that he did not want to sit next to McVee.
“His leprosy was so much worse than everyone else’s,” Hasselbeck recalled in an interview recorded on the website, www.sportsspectrm.com. “They said it wasn’t contagious…I didn’t know.”
Matt Hasselbeck recalled McVee recited long passages from the Bible and poems he had written. He recalled McVee repeatedly saying, “Thank you, Jesus” for the good things in his life
He recalled wondering what the people born into “poverty” and “poor health” had to be thankful for. Many of the people lived in homes with tin roofs, with no running water, and no electricity. Hasselbeck shared a shanty with a mother, her grandmother, and the mother’s sons, ages 10 and 22.
While in Jamaica, Hasselbeck saw a mother carrying her four-year-old dead son, who had fallen into a latrine covered with sewage, toward a school, while crying for help. A nurse unsuccessfully tried to revive the boy. Hasselbeck vomited at what he had seen. Later that night, as people in the village reflected on the tragedy, there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.
What happened in Jamaica also affected Matt Hasselbeck physically. A month after returning to Boston, he was hospitalized with Hepatitis A, which he had probably gotten from drinking the water in Jamaica. He was jaundiced, with yellow skin and eyes, and his weight dropped from 215 to 185. His 100 teammates had to get shots to protect themselves.
Hasselbeck said he never wondered why he had to get sick. His mind went back the lepers he had met in Jamaica and realized others had to deal with situations worse than his. He prayed and told God he had not used his health and abilities to the fullest and that he would from then on, once he got better. He promised himself he would always push himself to the fullest.
Matt Hasselbeck said that after that incident and recalling the leper in Jamaica, he played from then on “for the Person who created me.” He went from being a backup in college to being a starter on a Super Bowl team. You never know what might inspire a professional athlete.