Marriage, Caribbean storm latest delays to Branch-Hasselbeck union
By GREGG BELL, AP Sports Writer
June 11, 2007
KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -- When Deion Branch called Mike Holmgren last week to tell the Seahawks coach why he was missing another chance to build much-needed rapport with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the first thing Holmgren told his leading receiver was: "Hey, this better be good."
This time, Branch was delayed because of his wedding, planned long before he arrived in Seattle last September. His arrival then was delayed because of a contract holdout and then trade from the New England Patriots.
Oh, and this time there was also the tropical storm that blew onto the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Strong winds grounded his scheduled helicopter departure and extended Branch's honeymoon for two days.
"Fun. Hot. And then scary at the end, because I don't like hurricanes," the Georgia native said Monday, laughing as he recalled his honeymoon after finally joining the Seahawks' two-week minicamp a week late.
It wasn't really a hurricane that stranded the former Super Bowl MVP. The Caribbean hasn't had one of those yet this hurricane season.
"It was just bad weather ... a lot of wind," Branch said. "It was just weird."
Branch was greeted by Seahawks trainers telling him it was his day to get tested for body fat. His is usually 6 or 7 percent. Monday it was 10.
"They were just hoping it wasn't 20," Branch said.
"Crazy. First day off my honeymoon, getting back in, they measure my fat," said the 5-foot-9, 193-pound Branch, who claims he ran about a mile a day on a treadmill while on St. Lucia.
Branch is taking Darrell Jackson's place as Hasselbeck's primary target this season. Jackson, who shared a unique, unspoken understanding on the field with Hasselbeck, has been traded to San Francisco largely because the Seahawks are expecting huge production from Branch.
Hasselbeck said last week that one of the reasons he worked so fiendishly to return earlier than the team expected following surgery in January on his non-throwing shoulder was so he could begin to bond with Branch before training camp.
But Branch and his girlfriend of six years, Shola, had scheduled their wedding in Florida for this month way back in May 2006. Branch had plenty of time for planning then. He was beginning a contract holdout with the Patriots.
"This is nothing that we just came up with. That's probably why I got away with it," Branch said, chuckling.
Hasselbeck brought Branch back on task immediately Monday. When Hasselbeck first saw Branch before practice, the quarterback told him in jest: "Thanks for not being here. We had a great week without you."
On the first play of team drills, he threw a dart that Branch snared for a completion on a short out route, as if to symbolize that the quarterback wants to accelerate the chemistry.
"Oh, yeah, exactly. I know how important it is for me, not being here last year at this time," Branch said. "The main thing is just hearing the plays from Matt instead of just hearing them from the coaches."
Branch acknowledged he has much to prove this season, but "just to myself."
After arriving last September at the price of $39 million over six years plus Seattle's first-round choice in April's draft, Branch caught 53 passes with four touchdowns in 14 regular-season games as part of a crowded receiving corps -- and with a quarterback that for the first time in Branch's career wasn't Tom Brady.
Branch had 78 receptions and five scores, both career highs, during the 2005 season with Brady in New England.
"I felt I had an OK year last year -- given the position I was put in," he said. "I know I can do a whole lot better, given the offseason workouts with Matt, the familiarity with plays.
"I feel better in this system than I did in New England. It's more pass-oriented."
He said with the Patriots, he was constantly changing from strong-side to weak-side or slot receiver, depending on the play. Branch likes that the Seahawks are giving him one position, Jackson's old strong-side job, and keeping him there. He said the Seahawks simply tell him, "'Deion, go do this,"' and let his elusiveness create from there.
"My main thing is just to be here, getting the work in that we need. It's a whole lot, once you build that chemistry with your quarterback," Branch said. "That shows a whole lot."