Gone, but definitely not forgotten.
Yes, it’s a cliché. But it’s also an undeniable part of the story that is Steve Hutchinson’s relationship with the Seahawks and their fans.
Case in point: His free-agent visit in March with the Seahawks, the team that selected him in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft.
“When I came back to Seattle a couple months ago on my free-agent visit, I went to dinner with some of the coaches and some of the staff,” Hutchinson said recently during a telephone interview from Nashville – his new in-season home after signing with the Tennessee Titans. “Afterward, I hit a couple spots in Bellevue. Every person that came up to me had only good things to say.
“It was like the Seahawks paid the public to do such a good recruiting job.”
So yes, Hutchinson is gone – again. But no, he has not been forgotten. Even more evidence of that is the fact that the All-Pro left guard was voted to the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team. Hutch, as his former and current teammates call him, wasn’t just selected to the team; he was the landslide favorite among the guards with 1,411 votes – almost twice as many as the other guard on the reader-selected team, Bryan Millard. Hutchinson also was third among all the O-linemen behind the two players he lined up between on the best unit in franchise history – left tackle Walter Jones (4,065) and center Robbie Tobeck (2,455).
“To be remembered like that definitely is an honor, and I appreciate the fans remembering me,” Hutchinson said.
This story on his selection to the prestigious team was delayed by last year’s lockout, when team employees were not allowed to talk to players who were still active in the league, and then the frantic plunge into the season – when Hutchinson was playing his sixth, and final, season with the Minnesota Vikings.
But his impact on the Seahawks’ franchise in only five seasons remains Noteworthy – yes, with a capital N. After being the 17th pick overall in ’01 draft, Hutchinson was voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls (2003-05) and named All-Pro twice (2003 and 2005).
Hutchinson was an overpowering blocker during his stay in Seattle, when he joined Jones to form the best side of any line – on either side of the ball – in 2003, 2004 and 2005. It wasn’t just their dominance during that run, which allowed Shaun Alexander to produce rushing totals of 1,435, 1,696 and a league-leading 1,880 yards and also score 64 of his franchise-record 112 touchdowns. It was the way they played off one another, using a flick of a hand or a quick glance to communicate changes in the blocking scheme on their side – and they would do it in a blink as the play was about to begin or was just developing.
“It’s uncanny,” a scout for another NFC team said at the time when asked about the body language that Hutchinson and Jones used. “They’re better at it than any duo in the league.”
Added Jones, “We don’t have to say anything. We can communicate with a look or a glance.”
Offered Hutchinson, “It’s just automatic, and that’s important because during a game a defense can pick up your calls. We don’t make a lot of calls.”
It was fitting, too, because Hutchinson was a man of few words – especially for a player whose actions spoke so loudly.
“The strong, silent type,” said Lofa Tatupu, the middle linebacker on the 35th Anniversary team and another “short-timer” who made a lasting impact. “I don’t really know how to describe him – a man of few words, I guess. But his actions definitely spoke volumes; the way he played and the way he handled himself as a professional.”
And those actions continue to resonant at a deafening level, as evidenced by his inclusion on to the reader-selected 35th Anniversary team and reaction generated by his return to Seattle this offseason.
“Man, that’s an honor to be here such a short time and be voted to the team,” Tatupu said. “That’s great. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Even if his departure was a bitter pill to swallow for the team’s fans, and one that needs to be recalled in retelling the complete and complex story that is Steve Hutchinson. Rather than keep the franchise tag on him after the team’s Super Bowl run in 2005, then-general manager Tim Ruskell opted for the transition tag. That paved the way for Hutchinson to sign an offer sheet with the Vikings that included a since-outlawed “poison pill” that made it all-but-impossible for the Seahawks to match.
“Seven years later, that wound has kind of healed,” Hutchinson said. “All the memories are good. Football is unlike any other professional sport. The bonds you form with other guys are so great. Unfortunately, it’s still a business, too. For as good a run as we had, and as close as I was to all of those guys, for it to turn out like it did at the end it was a little unfortunate. But it’s a business, too, and you move on.”
So, off he went, to earn four more Pro Bowl berths and four more All-Pro honors in Minnesota. Not surprisingly, Hutchinson also was named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 2000s.
But, he never made it to the Super Bowl with the Vikings, as he had with the Seahawks.
“I came in in 2001 and we weren’t the best team, by any stretch of the imagination,” Hutchinson said. “But we started improving every year and got better and better and had a Super Bowl run. And that’s the way you want to script it.”
What does he remember most about his time with the Seahawks?
“Pretty much that whole 2005 season,” Hutchinson said. “We were 2-2 and then went on an 11-win run to end up 13-3. Then to win in the playoffs like we did and have those home games. So the whole 2005 season is just a great memory.”
And, he also is remembered – fondly.