One by one, the Indianapolis Colts offered their votes of confidence for their old man of a quarterback.
They believe in Matt Hasselbeck.
They admire and respect him.
They’re convinced, even in a weakened state, he can lead the Colts to a win Sunday against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Once more, they’re sold he can save this season from an ignominious fate.
Part of it is because he’s 40, of course. He should be retired. Maybe he wishes that were the case sometimes, especially when breathing became a chore due to a separated rib. What, he can't breathe? That's OK. He just needs to be able to play. Breathing is overrated, right?
The 17th-year-pro has hung tough. On Thursday, Hasselbeck said he didn’t know if he could play. A day later, head coach Chuck Pagano was “very encouraged” by how the quarterback threw the ball around in Friday’s practice.
Of course Hasselbeck will play. He’s going to give it his best shot because his team needs him. And this is why he came back to the Colts for a third season, because he wanted to chase an elusive Super Bowl ring and ensure Andrew Luck had a capable backup in case, well, in case stuff happens.
And stuff has.
“I think everybody can just take a lesson from him in being a pro,” said outside linebacker Robert Mathis. "He approaches it five-star like. He has my upmost respect. He’s certainly battle tested and I love him for it.”
He won his first four starts subbing for Luck. Then he got clobbered in the past two. It wasn’t all his fault, but he didn’t play well, either. Remember the buzz about how the Colts should consider keeping Hasselbeck in the lineup even when Luck gets healthy? Yeah, that’s piped down a bit.
But the reality is, if Hasselbeck leads the Colts to a win Sunday, in a game that should decide the AFC South Division, it will define this season and most likely be the perfect wrap to a solid NFL career. He’s not going to be inducted itnto the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Hasselbeck has been a winner on the field and off. When it comes to interviews, where he delivers keen insight as well as amusing observations — typically at the same time — he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever met in the locker room,” said second-year offensive guard Jack Mewhort. “He’s tough, I think that’s obvious. The guy is 40 years old and out there playing great football. I think that speaks to who he is, not only as a player and the way he approaches the game but as a human being and his toughness.
“He’s an awesome guy to have, not only in the locker room but to be out on the field with. We have all the confidence in the world in him. As an offensive lineman, you just want to keep a guy like that, that you care about, you want to keep him safe. It makes you want to do your job even better.”
Hate to say this, but the Colts probably don’t deserve their hero. Seriously, this team has fallen short in so many areas from the front office on down, damn the old man to give everyone hope and cover for the mistakes of others.
Still, you can’t help but really like the guy. You pull for him. Yeah, even media types, although they’re sworn by some journalism creed that they’re not supposed to care. They do, though. They do because while Red Smith once told us that we must never cheer in a press box, we do root for stories.
Hasselbeck has been the best story of 2015 for the Colts.
He hasn’t been perfect. He’s been good enough more often that not. He’s been resilient. He’s shown the resolve necessary to survive in this sport that has been known to be somewhat hard on human bodies.
When he led the Colts to a win at Houston on Oct. 8, Hasselbeck was sick as a dog. A chicken burrito had him rushing to a hospital three nights before kickoff. Yet he got the job done.
Inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson hasn’t forgotten.
“It would have been easy for the guy to say, ‘Hey, I can’t go,’” Jackson recalled Friday. “It meant more to him to stick it out.”
Jackson asked him how Hasselbeck did it. The quarterback said he honestly didn’t know, that “It was someone else.”
Bottom line, as DQ reminded, “We all fed off that.”
They fed off his grit, his guts, DQ said.
If Hasselbeck can be the hero one more time on Sunday, if he can display that grit and those guts once again, that’s what we will remember most. Years from now, the conversation might include how Luck got hurt twice or perhaps how a coach and/or general manager lost their jobs. But more than anything else, we’ll say, “Remember how 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck saved the Colts season in 2015?”
Truthfully, he’s done that with or without the desired result on Sunday.
We root for stories, though. And this saga has a much better ending with one more win.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.