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Originally published December 21, 2010 at 6:11 PM | Page modified December 21, 2010 at 10:33 PM

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Seahawks' quarterback mess looks a lot like 1991

In 1991, the Seahawks were stumbling toward the end of the season with a veteran quarterback, Dave Krieg, in what turned out to be his last year with the team. They also had a backup they had traded for, Kelly Stouffer, they hoped would be capable of becoming the starter. Sound familiar?

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Seahawks were 6-8, and the franchise leader in career passing yardage was in the final year of his contract with a potential heir behind him on the depth chart.

But we're not talking about Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst or Seattle's current situation. This was 19 years and five coaches ago for the Seahawks. This was 1991, Dave Krieg's final season in Seattle, when he was one of four quarterbacks to start during Seattle's 7-9 season.

The Seahawks tried to plan for their future beyond Krieg. They traded for Kelly Stouffer in 1988. They drafted Dan McGwire in 1991, and they began that season with Jeff Kemp as Krieg's backup. And when it was all over, Krieg left to sign with the division-rival Chiefs and Seattle was left with a mess.

So the question at quarterback is not new. It's just the names that have changed as coach Pete Carroll chose to keep Hasselbeck as the starter despite three turnovers in Sunday's loss to Atlanta. The decision doesn't offer clarity for the future though, and quarterback remains the great uncertainty of this franchise's future.

In 1991, there was no hotter topic in Seattle sports than the Seahawks' quarterback position. Krieg was the starter. The guy from Milton College, who led the Seahawks to the AFC Championship Game and three subsequent playoff berths. He turned 33 during his final season in Seattle and surpassed Dan Fouts' NFL record of 107 career fumbles that December.

There were plenty in Seattle who thought it was time for him to exit stage left, and the Seahawks had tried to find a successor. They tried really hard, actually.

They traded safety Kenny Easley to Arizona for the rights to Stouffer, and when Easley failed a physical examination, the Seahawks handed over a first-round pick to complete the trade. They drafted McGwire with a first-round pick in 1991, a year Brett Favre was chosen No. 33 overall. The fact Seattle coach Chuck Knox may have been enamored with Favre only makes that more difficult to take.

After all that, Stan Gelbaugh was Seattle's leading passer the year after Krieg left, a season in which Seattle went 2-14, losing twice to Krieg's Chiefs.

The history lesson stops there because the Seahawks changed coaches that year as well, Tom Flores arriving as coach and general manager. Carroll isn't going anywhere. The question is what he will do at quarterback.

Over the offseason, Seattle decided Seneca Wallace wasn't a suitable alternative to Hasselbeck. Wallace was traded to Cleveland. The Seahawks inquired about Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb, but decided the cost of acquiring him was too high as it certainly would have included a first-round pick. They could have chosen Jimmy Clausen with the No. 14 overall pick, but opted for safety Earl Thomas.

They acquired Whitehurst not to be the starting quarterback, but as a potential starter. He was an alternative to Hasselbeck, and perhaps he still is. Whitehurst's play has improved in his past three appearances, but Carroll and his coaching staff see Hasselbeck as the best chance at winning despite his recent rash of turnovers.

But any progress that Seattle has made this season could be undermined by the uncertainty that exists beyond Hasselbeck, something that predates Carroll's arrival.

In Tim Ruskell's five years as president, he drafted more fullbacks (three) than quarterbacks (two). He picked a long snapper who never played because of a back injury. He picked a kicker who wasn't active for a game. The Seahawks drafted quarterbacks David Greene in 2005 and Mike Teel in 2009. Neither played a regular-season down.

You can go back and second guess Seattle's decision not to draft Mark Sanchez instead of Aaron Curry in 2009, but would Sanchez be the right fit for a rebuilding team? Would he be better than Hasselbeck?

It's not a sure thing, but then again, it seldom is when it comes to NFL quarterbacks. There's a reason why it has been called the most important position in sports, and that's because it's so hard to find someone capable of excelling.

It's hard to tell which is more difficult, deciding when to cut bait on an established quarterback or finding a suitable heir. That was as true for Seattle in 1991 as it is now.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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