How Hasselbach Turned Himself into an NFL Player after UW Miss

In the end, the former defensive end finally got his chance to play at Husky Stadium.
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Harald Hasselbach possessed tremendous strength and speed for a defensive lineman. Yet he left the University of Washington for the professional ranks with almost nothing to show for it.

Want to see his game film?

Practically none exists.

In five seasons, he drew four Husky plays, bringing down the great tailback Emmitt Smith of Florida on one of them.

Hasselbach was a late bloomer to the game when he reported to the Calgary Stampeders in 1990 as a rookie and a fifth-round draft pick, and he became a different player.

"Really my college years were in the CFL," he said. "I had the right kind of coaching, but I also had a different attitude."

The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Hasselbach turned four seasons north of the border into a springboard to the NFL. He became a two-time all-star, which activated an escape clause in his Calgary contract, enabling him to shop himself around. 

Stampeders defensive-line coach Tom Higgins, later a CFL head coach for three league franchises and a general manager, took this extreme raw talent and turned it into a finished product.

Hasselbach fielded offers from 14 American franchises and he went to the highest bidder — the Denver Broncos. 

In seven seasons in the Rocky Mountain city, he played in two Super Bowls and he did something that never happened for him at the UW. 

At Super Bowl XXXIII, he started the epic game. 

In Miami, he drew an opening assignment for a pinnacle football moment. He chalked up two tackles.

Without question, he went down a path far less traveled.

"I looked at it as a growing experience," he said. "I needed to be humbled in my time at Washington in order to come back and rise to the surface."

Hasselbach was part of back-to-back Super Bowl winners. He played most of a 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers as a reserve at Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. Twelve months later, he opened a 34-19 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons.

Ask this unconventional one for a Super Bowl highlight, and you get an unconventional answer.

"I remember walking by [actress] Bo Derek, who I was infatuated with," he said of the 1999 game. "I saw the rock band KISS, in their full makeup."

He also ranked his pair of Super Bowls no higher there with his Calgary team winning the CFL's 1992 Grey Cup, a 24-10 decision over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

"The intimacy and how tight you were with your buddies was just as memorable to go to the Grey Cup and win as it was to go to two Super Bowls," he said, referencing the CFL's smaller 37-man roster. "It's much more of a business when you go to the NFL, which is understandable."

Hasselbach played for the Broncos from 1994-2000. He started 29 regular-season games. He piled up 154 tackles, including 14 sacks. He tackled Emmitt Smith multiple times. 

Whereas at the UW he could barely get into a game, he prided himself for never missing an outing in 11 pro seasons. He played hurt. He got his eye gauged. He played on.

Along the way, he encountered Randy Hart, his Husky defensive-line coach. At the Broncos facilities, they watched game film together. Hart later tried to recruit his son Terran Hasselbach to Stanford, but he ended up at Colorado. Hart half-heartedly questioned his coaching ability for not pulling all of this talent out this guy at the UW. 

"I didn't fault him," Hasselbach said. "I blamed nobody except myself for my time at Washington. It was a dark spot for me." 

Hasselbach watched as Dennis Brown and Steve Emtman, two of the Huskies' greatest defensive linemen in school history and former teammates who kept him on the sidelines, came to Denver for tryouts and couldn't take his job from him.

This Dutch-born man, by way of Africa, South America, Indonesia, Europe and Canada (his father was a research scientist), ended up in a most unlikely place in 2000, in his final pro football season.

Seattle.

With the Kingdome shut down, the Seahawks were forced to play their games elsewhere in town.

At Husky Stadium.

Hasselbach was back. 

Sharing in a 38-31 Broncos victory.

Working up a game-day sweat in Montlake.

Finally.

The rewards were many that day.

"I was in the visitor's locker room," he said. "The equipment man gave me my old [Husky] helmet, which was pretty cool."

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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