KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) - To Matt Hasselbeck, E.J. Henderson changed everything for the Seahawks last season.
The defending NFC champions were 4-1 and in a tie game early in the second half against Minnesota on Oct. 22. That's when Henderson, a Vikings linebacker, came off a block by fullback Mack Strong and swung his torso into Hasselbeck's leg, which was planted after the quarterback had just thrown an incomplete pass.
Hasselbeck left with a sprained knee and didn't return for a month. Seattle, which was already without injured star Shaun Alexander, lost that game 31-13 - and then two of the next four that Hasselbeck missed.
The Seahawks never quite recovered as they sputtered to a third consecutive NFC West title at 9-7, a record that forced them into an opening-round playoff game and then a trip to top-seeded Chicago. Seattle's season ended there in a 27-24 overtime loss. The Bears went to the Super Bowl instead.
So what might Hasselbeck say to Henderson Saturday, when the Vikings come back to Seattle for an exhibition game?
``I don't know what I'd say - 'Thanks for ruining my season?''' Hasselbeck said this week.
What might Henderson say to Hasselbeck?
Who knows? The fifth-year veteran from Maryland declined to talk Wednesday when approached at Vikings' training camp in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Immediately after the game last October, Henderson was apologetic for the play that officials did not penalize.
``I was falling to the ground and Mack Strong kind of pushed. I definitely didn't mean to do it,'' Henderson said. ``It was definitely an accident. I hope he gets back soon.''
At the time, Hasselbeck said, ``I don't think it was unavoidable, but only he would know.''
Game officials explained to Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren that the blow was unavoidable.
``The judgment there was that Mack Strong blocked the defender into Matt. Then, all bets are off,'' Holmgren said Wednesday.
``Sometimes accidents happen. I don't think that kid tried to hurt Matt. I think you have to be careful, as a defender rolling, and doing some things after you get blocked ... but if you get blocked into somebody, that's football. I just don't want it to happen again, that's for sure.''
Hasselbeck, who said he doesn't know Henderson or even his jersey number, will start Saturday. He sat out Seattle's 48-13 loss at Green Bay last weekend largely because starting tackles Walter Jones and Sean Locklear were out.
The Seahawks are trying to keep Hasselbeck's surgically repaired, non-throwing shoulder from getting hit before the games get real Sept. 9 against Tampa Bay. Seattle's starters will likely play into the second half against the Vikings, per Holmgren's norm for the third exhibition game.
Hasselbeck played one series of the exhibition opener at San Diego and ran plays Holmgren called to minimize the risk of getting hit. The coach knows shelving his quarterback for the remainder of the preseason is not practical, but insists his offense doesn't need Hasselbeck to play against Minnesota, or in the final exhibition game against Oakland on Aug. 30.
``No, (it's) just for his own benefit,'' Holmgren said. ``Look it: You keep your fingers crossed. Everybody does. But you have to get ready to play the game, and you got to bang around a little bit, and you just hope nothing bad happens.
``But for the grace of God, you just keep your fingers crossed.''
As for being crossed, Hasselbeck tried to separate the player from the play after saying Henderson ruined last season.
``I don't have an issue with him necessarily,'' he said. ``I do have a problem with a guy late around the quarterback's knees unnecessarily.''
---
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Eden Prairie, Minn., contributed to this report.

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