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Monday, January 8, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Hunter's wait ends with game of lifetime

Seattle Times staff columnist

Every Monday, for 16 weeks, through the length of the NFL season, Pete Hunter waited for the phone to ring.

Somewhere in the league, he was certain, circumstances had conspired in his favor. Surely some team, because of injury or inefficiency, needed a veteran cornerback.

And every day, from September through December, his sister, Simone Derrick, would call him from Washington, D.C.

"The Redskins, they have some injuries, man," she would say. "They're about to call you."

She culled all of the wires and Web sites and blogs. She knew who was hurt and what teams needed help, and she called her brother every day and offered encouragement.

"She knew more than I knew. And I'd be like, 'How do you know all this?' " Hunter said. "She kept me pumped up. Without her, man, I don't know what would have happened."

And almost every day, his roommate, Robert Green, would rally him up off the couch and into the gym.

"Come on, P-Hunt. Get up. Somebody's gonna call," Green hollered at him. "You got to work out, man. Somebody else is working out right now who's looking for a job. If we work out together, we're going to better than them."

For 16 straight weeks, Pete Hunter held on to hope. He believed another job would reopen for him. Some team would need a cornerback. Hunter would be ready.

But the phone never rang. And on the 17th week, Hunter, who had been working as a loan officer, surrendered. He looked reality in the face and came to the painful conclusion his football career was over.

And just when he lost all hope, the phone finally rang.

It was Lake Dawson, the Seahawks' assistant director of player personnel. The Hawks had an emergency. Their secondary was decimated. Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Kelly Herndon were down. On New Year's morning, Hunter answered the call.

"Many a days I wanted to give up," Hunter said after Saturday's improbable 21-20 playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys. "Many a days I questioned myself, like, 'Why am I still hungry? Why am I still lifting weights? Why am I still willing to put my body through this? No one's going to call.'

"After a while I stopped worrying about the things I couldn't control. That's what I had to do. I convinced myself I was done. Then the minute I say, 'You know what, I'm going to give up.' I get a call. I'm in the playoffs. Just thrown in the fire. You can't write this story any better."

Before last week, Hunter hadn't even worn a helmet since Sept. 2, the date of the Cleveland Browns' last exhibition game. On Saturday, he made up for time lost.

Hunter had three solo tackles, two assists, a pass defended and fumble recovery. He helped shut down and shut up Cowboys' wideout Terrell Owens, who had only two catches for 26 yards.

If there is a common denominator on this uncommon Seahawks team it is the responsibility every player feels to do something that changes the direction of the game.

On the Seahawks, even the most obscure no-names become big names. They make big plays, like Hunter, a call-911 nickel back, recovering Jason Witten's fumble in the first quarter on Saturday.

"I called my agent the other day and I told him, 'I've never been on a team that goes through practice so smoothly,' " Hunter said. "No one's yelling. Everyone believes in each other.

"I've never been on a team where there's no bickering amongst players, amongst coaches. There's no big egos on the team. It was just smooth, professional. It was like we knew were going to win, and I've never experienced that. And it's a great feeling."

Hunter, 26, who was living in Dallas, a Tony Romo Hail Mary away from the Cowboys' training site, finished his degree in criminal justice and was preparing to take the exam Jan. 19 to become a special agent for the U.S. Border Patrol.

"I'm going to have to call my recruiter and reschedule that," Hunter said.

Or maybe cancel it all together

Hunter has a football career again.

"I think I've got a little bit of football left in me. I think I have some years ahead of me," Hunter said.

Who knows what happens to players like Hunter. Why they get caught up in the numbers game. Why, after four years in the league, after 30 games with the Cowboys, after finishing last season with the Browns, nobody seemed to want him anymore.

"It comes to a point where you start questioning yourself, like nobody was believing in me any more. It's a tough pill to swallow," he said. "That's why I was studying for the border patrol.

"I had to keep my mind off football. I had too much time on my hands. I drove myself crazy at nights. Wasn't sleeping. Wasn't really eating. Just wanted to play, you know. Then all of a sudden the phone rings, and it's like a dream come true."

After Saturday's playoff win, in a very emotional Seahawks locker room, Hunter went to coach Mike Holmgren and thanked him for this chance.

"There's a lot of guys on the streets right now who have the ability to play," Hunter said. "I just wanted to personally thank him."

On the final play of the game, it was Hunter, in the end zone, knocking down Romo's dangerous Hail Mary pass.

Just that one play felt like thanks enough.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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