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On this date: Howard Ballard signed in free agency

Howard Ballard

A look at some memorable moments in Seahawks history that occurred on Feb. 28:

1994: Howard Ballard, a two-time Pro Bowl tackle from the Bills, signs with the Seahawks in free agency. Ballard would start 74 games at right tackle in five seasons and was voted to the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary Team.

2001: A 6.8 earthquakeforces the team’s marketing department to relocate because of damage to its headquarters near the site where the Kingdome had stood and the team’s new stadium was being built.


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On this date: Seahawks buy a ‘House’

A look at the memorable moments in Seahawks history that occurred on Feb. 28:

1994: Howard “House” Ballard, a two-time Pro Bowl tackle of the Bills, signs with the Seahawks in free agency. Ballard would start 74 games at right tackle in five seasons and be voted the 35th Anniversary Team.

2001: A 6.8 earthquake forces the team’s marketing department to relocate because of damage to its headquarters near the site where the Kingdome had stood and the team’s new stadium was being built.


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Laying it on the line

The only problem with Bryan Millard being voted into the right guard spot on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team is that it left Chris Gray on the outside looking in.

The left guard, of course, is Steve Hutchinson, who generated almost as many votes (1,411) for the reader-selected team as Millard (758) and Gray (656) combined. But when it came to the other guard spot, the readers remembered a player who performed at a high – and at times dominating – level. Even if Millard did it from 1984-91.

As Millard put it in the 18th profile in a series of stories on the players selected to the team, “Think about it. I wasn’t just an offensive lineman; I was an offensive lineman from 20 years ago. So to have the fans remember me is very, very humbling.”

Still, it’s difficult to overlook Gray, who started a club-record 121 consecutive games from 1999-2006 – and 145 overall, at three different positions.

“There’s a guy who doesn’t get enough respect,” said Lofa Tatupu, the middle linebacker on the 35th Anniversary team. “Chris Gray was one of the best O-linemen I ever played against. That was one of the toughest dudes I ever met. And what a nice guy.

“Looking at him, he’s always got that same expression – just kind of stares at you. But get him on the field, man, and he was just unbelievably tough.”

Robbie Tobeck, the center on the 35th Anniversary team, played next to Gray from 2000-06. Tobeck also casts a vote for Gray, by casting a blanket vote for the entire unit that was so dominant during the team’s run to the Super Bowl in 2005.

Left tackle Walter Jones, Hutchinson and Tobeck made the reader-selected team. Gray and right tackle Sean Locklear did not – as Howard Ballard was voted the right tackle, with Locklear finishing third in the balloting at tackle behind Jones and Ballard.

“I would vote for that line,” Tobeck said of the ’05 unit. “I always take that unit as a whole.

“You’ve got a Hall of Famer in Walt and possibly in Steve. But each guy on that line had their place. If you had taken one cog out of there, it’s not the same line.”

That became apparent as Hutchinson left after the ’05 season in free agency, Tobeck retired after the 2006 season, an injury forced Gray to retire during training camp in 2008 and Jones retired last year after spending the 2009 season on injured reserve following microfracture surgery on his left knee.

Together, this foursome played 35 seasons for the Seahawks (13 by Jones, 10 by Gray); started 481 games (180 by Jones, 145 by Gray); and was voted to 13 Pro Bowls (nine by Jones).

Here’s the line on that line, from the player who anchored it:

Tobeck on Jones: “Walt was your shutdown left tackle who had his way of doing things that you kind of followed as an example.”

Tobeck on Hutchinson: “Steve was a heckuva athlete; very strong.”

Tobeck on himself: “I had my role, which was to kind of coordinate it and quarterback it and be the ornery little pisser – the guy who’s always stirring it up.”

Tobeck on Gray: “Chris was our conscience. We wouldn’t have been as good a line without Chris. And what I mean by conscience, he was the guy that was always thinking of the scenario we might get in a game; and reviewing the plays with us; and pulling the notes out that we’d taken during the week and going over them on Saturday or going over them before the game in the locker room. We was constantly talking about what-if scenarios that you don’t have time to cover in your meeting room. About twice a season, he would come up with something and we’d walk out on the field and say, ‘Thank God Chris covered this.’ ”

Tobeck on Locklear: “ ‘Cornbread’ was the young guy we’d mess with. He was just trying to fit in and keep up.”

Tobeck on the entire group: “Everyone was equal in their own way, if that makes sense. It wasn’t like Michael Jordan and the Bulls. It wasn’t Walter Jones and the line. That’s what it’s all about. It’s that family within a family. If your team is a family, if you come together as a family – and you do on those good teams – then the offensive line is a family within that family. And that’s a special thing.”


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On his terms

One of the best things about Robbie Tobeck’s 14-year NFL career is the way it ended: On his terms.

The veteran center not only knew it was time to walk away; he was prepared to step into the next phase of his life. Tobeck, who played his final seven seasons with the Seahawks (2000-06), is a partner in Griffin MacLean Insurance, hosting a Saturday morning fishing show on 710 ESPN and enjoying watching his sons play the sport that was such a large part of his life for so long.

“I knew I was done. I knew it was time,” said Tobeck, who has lost 40 pounds. “I worked at Griffin MacLean in the offseason when I played. After I announced my retirement (following the 2006 playoff loss to the Bears in Chicago), I went to Costa Rica and fished for 10 days. Then I came back and I was in the office that Monday.

“That was the transition for me. It was just boom-boom and here I was.”  

Tobeck is one of nine players voted to the 35th Anniversary team who was not on the 25th Anniversary unit – most of obvious reasons. His story is the latest profile of the players the readers of Seahawks.com voted to the 35th Anniversary team.

Here’s a what-a-difference-10-years-can-make look at the changes from the 25th Anniversary team that was selected by the Seattle P-I in 2000, starting with Tobeck:

Center: Tobeck over Blair Bush. Tobeck didn’t join the Seahawks until 2000. He is the only center in team history to play in the Pro Bowl (2005) and was the anchor in the middle of the line on the 2003-06 teams that won three consecutive NFC West titles and advanced to the playoffs four years in a row.

Guard: Steve Hutchinson over Edwin Bailey. Hutchinson was not drafted until 2001 and played only five seasons, making 68 starts – compared to 11 seasons and 120 starts for Bailey. But Hutchinson was voted to three Pro Bowls, and is the only guard in team history to play in the Pro Bowl.

Tackle: Howard Ballard over Mike Wilson. Ballard was a Plan B free agent addition in 1994 and started 74 games in five seasons. Wilson started 60 games in four seasons (1986-89), but on better teams. Ballard was not the same player who had been a mainstay on the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl teams from 1990-93, but he got 982 votes in finishing second to Walter Jones (4,065) among the tackles – while Wilson got only 46 votes to finish tied for ninth in the 11-tackle field.

 

Tight end: John Carlson over Mike Tice. Carlson was a second-round draft choice in 2008 and became the first rookie to lead the team in receptions since Steve Largent in 1976. Still, the voting at this spot was the tightest on the 35th Anniversary team – 1,898 for Carlson to 1,880 for Tice, who started 83 games from 1981-88 and in 1990-91.

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck over Dave Krieg. Hasselbeck was obtained in a 2001 trade with the Green Bay Packers, and has since broken Krieg’s club records for career attempts, completions and passing yards. Hasselbeck has been voted to three Pro Bowls. Krieg also went to the Pro Bowl three times, and had a 70-49 record as a starter (.588 winning percentage) – compared to 69-62 (.527) for Hasselbeck.

Running back: Shaun Alexander over Curt Warner. Alexander was a first-round draft choice in 2000, but didn’t become the fulltime starter until 2002. He went on to obliterate the club records for rushing yards (9,429) and rushing touchdowns (100). Alexander also became the first Seahawk to be voted league MVP in 2005, when he led the NFL in rushing and scored a then-league record 28 touchdowns.

Fullback: Mack Strong over John L. Williams. Strong joined the Seahawks in 1993, but Williams was just so productive during his eight-season stay – 4,579 rushing yards, No. 4 in club history; and 471 receptions, No. 3 all-time. Williams went to the Pro Bowl in 1990 and ’91, while Strong went in 2005 and ’06. Strong’s best seasons came after the 25th Anniversary team was selected.

Middle linebacker: Lofa Tatupu over Keith Butler. Tatupu was a second-round draft choice in 2005. While Butler ranks No. 2 all-time with 813 tackles, Tatupu is the only player to lead the team in tackles for four consecutive seasons and he also was voted to three Pro Bowls.

Punt returner: Nate Burleson over Bobby Joe Edmonds. Burleson was signed as a restricted free agent in 2006. He actually volunteered for punt return duties, and ended up as the career leader in returns (125) and yards (1,288) despite being with the team for only four seasons.