Analysis: Matt Hasselbeck Was So Much More Than A Backup

Few players have been more fun than 40-year-old quarterback.

When recent reports began to circulate that the Indianapolis Colts wouldn’t re-sign backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, I kind of hoped they weren’t accurate.

The media enjoyed working with the 40-year-old passer these past three seasons. He always had something interesting to say and nobody was better at offering a few words of wisdom based on his 17 years of experience.

Then Hasselbeck confirmed the team’s decision on Twitter Monday night with this farewell tweet:

“Amazing experience w/ Colts. My family & I are grateful to you Indianapolis. Many great friends, you will be missed!”

We learn in this business not to get too warm and fuzzy with the players. The reminders are constant that we are guests in their “office,” the locker room, and there’s always an element of us versus them when it comes to covering the Colts.

But once in a while, a guy seems to ignore the usual coach speak and is his own man when it comes to dealing with reporters. Hasselbeck was always smart about what he could and couldn’t say, yet gave something that provided unique perspective.

And the more unusual the question, the better the answer. He seemed to enjoy my off-the-wall inquiries more than the usual football talk. When I wanted to assign Halloween costumes to his teammates, Hasselbeck was the obvious go-to guy. Of course, Andrew Luck had to be Wolverine.

His story about how he and his eventual wife got electrocuted while attending a wedding is a classic. Then he advises with a shrug that he's been struck by lightning twice. What? Lucky guy.

Some questioned the need for such a seasoned backup quarterback. They continually asked why the Colts would pay him $3 million as an insurance policy.

Then Luck got hurt. Hasselbeck did what he could to salvage 2015. He was beat to hell and back, won five of eight starts, and was probably the single-most important reason this team was able to finish 8-8.

They don’t build statues or hand out awards for 8-8. But those of us who worked the room every day knew how much Hasselbeck meant with Luck gone, how much the wise, old sage became an inspiration in proving he could ignore pain and still play the game well.

Reports suggest the Colts will be looking at Josh Freeman as a backup quarterback. He’ll be cheap, although I’m not sold on him doing what Hasselbeck accomplished should the need arise again, heaven forbid.

But at his age and the cost, you had to know this Hasselbeck decision was possible.

A day after the 2015 season ended on Jan. 4, he joked about it being “trash day” and wondered how he would get all of his trash bags of locker-room stuff to his car. He said it was time to re-connect with his family, that he looked forward to mending a bit more, working out a little and suggested he would know more about his future after the Super Bowl.

Hasselbeck sounded like a guy who was thinking about playing at least one more year. That said, the ideal situation would have to present itself. I don’t see him going to a lousy team and just collecting a paycheck with a lost cause.

He wanted to be with the Colts because he believed this team was a Super Bowl contender. The Colts made the playoffs the first two years and came within a game of reaching the finale two seasons ago.

At times, he spoke of chasing that elusive Super Bowl ring, how he came so close in leading Seattle to the biggest stage but losing to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL in 2006. He set a lengthy list of records with the Seahawks and has passed for 36,638 yards in his career with a lifetime passer rating of 82.4.

Yeah, it was about the ring. That was the No. 1 goal. But Hasslebeck’s candor and congeniality on a daily basis reminded us there’s something to be said for how a professional goes about his job, that each day can’t be defined by a win or a loss. He won't end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he was a Hall of Famer for how he dealt with the media.

As we said farewell, I thanked him by saying, “I’ve enjoyed you.”

The comment prompted a curious eyebrow raise. Hasselbeck said he wasn’t going anywhere, that he intended to stay in Indianapolis and asked, “Do you know something I don’t know?”

I didn’t. I just had a hunch. 

I explained that too often in this gig, our paths typically never cross again when a player doesn’t return. It was important to let him know how much I appreciated him.

Once more, with feeling, good-bye to a great guy.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+. 


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