KIRKLAND - Stan Gelbaugh's teammates and coaches rarely miss a chance to tease him about having the best job in America, and he can hardly deny it.
Gelbaugh makes a decent salary - $275,000, low by football standards, but kingly for a working stiff - and he doesn't have to subject his body to the brutal pounding of the NFL. For almost four years, Gelbaugh has been the Seahawks' third quarterback, which is sort of like being the understudy to the understudy of the leading man: A lot of preparation with minimal chance of ever putting it to use.
But things are changing for Gelbaugh, who is now one twisted knee or banged shoulder away from being the Seahawks' quarterback of record. With the season-ending injury to John Friesz, Gelbaugh has been bumped up to second-string behind Rick Mirer for the final five games, beginning Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Game action, something Gelbaugh hasn't experienced since the 14th week of the 1994 season, is again a very real possibility.
"I'll be a little more excited on game day, knowing that if something were to happen to Rick - and, knock on wood, it doesn't - that I'm the guy that goes in," Gelbaugh said. "That's a change. It hasn't been that way for a while."
Gelbaugh, who will be 34 in two weeks, has the nickname "Blueprint," in homage to his thorough knowledge of the offense. He has obviously paid attention during his 10-year sojourn through the netherworlds of professional football, which has seen him play for nine teams in three leagues and three countries.
In the NFL, he has had stops with Dallas, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Phoenix and Seattle, parlaying all those frequent-flier miles into a grand total of 19 games, including 11 starts. Eight of those starts came during the Seahawks' miserable 2-14 season in 1992, when he got the job by attrition after Kelly Stouffer and Dan McGwire were injured.
"We were bad," he said, grimacing at the memory. "I'm just happy I survived it because a lot of good men didn't."
Gelbaugh also survived two separate stints in the Canadian Football League. The first, in 1986, was as the punter for Saskatchewan; the other, in 1991, was as a brief practice-squad player for Hamilton.
All these were intertwined with two seasons, 1991 and '92, with the London Monarchs of the World League ("a blast," he says) and interrupted by one year, 1990, completely out of football. That year, he sold copy machines in Maryland and realized that a journeyman's football career wasn't so bad.
"I'd love the ring and I'd love the money and, of course, everyone wants to play, but sometimes you have to be satisfied with the situation you're in because just having a job in this league is a pretty good deal," he said. "I was part of the work force at one time, outside football, so I know how that is. Any time I feel sorry for myself, I just think about those days."
He has found a home in Seattle, where the coaching staff thinks of him as an unofficial addition to their ranks. Gelbaugh, who turned down an offer to join the Raiders this season, hopes to play at least two more years, then go into coaching.
"He's been around a number of different systems, so he's been an awfully big help to me and all the other quarterbacks," Seahawk quarterback coach Rich Olson said. "He's been an extremely valuable guy, and I don't think any of us have any doubts that if he had to go in and play a game, he could go in and win and play extremely well."
Or maybe Mirer will stay healthy, and Gelbaugh will root him on from the safety of the sideline. Either way it's the best job in America.
-- Running back Chris Warren (knee) and wide receiver Brian Blades (shoulder) both practiced, putting them in line to start Sunday against Oakland.
-- Olson will interview Monday for the vacant head coaching job at Fresno State, where he assisted retiring coach Jim Sweeney for eight seasons.
-- The Raider game will be blacked out on local television. The Seahawks sold only 54,000 tickets by Thursday's deadline, 10,000 shy of the necessary sellout.