By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Matt Hasselbeck was in the Bahamas on Monday evening when he learned he’d been fired.
The 37-year-old was enjoying a rare “exotic” vacation with his family when his agent called and said the Tennessee Titans had officially released him after two seasons. A whirlwind of activity followed, culminating when Hasselbeck signed a two-year deal reportedly worth $8 million with the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday morning.
Even though the transaction took less than 24 hours to complete, the 14-year veteran said Indianapolis wasn’t immediately the obvious choice. A personal phone call from head coach Chuck Pagano helped to seal the deal.
“Obviously they’re very, very well established at the quarterback position,” Hasselbeck said during his first conference call with local media Tuesday. “But the more and more I talked about it with my wife, my family and my agent, obviously the reputation that the Colts organization has and the kind of player that Andrew Luck is, more and more it made sense. I would also say that the Colts’ interest from that moment that I got the phone call to this morning when I signed the contract, their interest just felt the most consistent, and it just felt right.”
Hasselbeck made just five starts last season with the Titans, serving as the primary back-up to second-year quarterback Jake Locker. But he threw for 3,571 yards with 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and led Tennessee to a 9-7 record as the full-time starter in 2011.
Hasselbeck ranks fourth among active quarterbacks in career passing yards (34,517) and fifth in touchdown passes (201). He made three Pro Bowls during 10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and led the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance following the 2005 season.
He had plenty of suitors after his release, and some of them even offered an opportunity to compete for a starting role. But Hasselbeck clearly has strong respect for what Indianapolis was able to accomplish last season, and he wanted a chance to be a part of the next chapter.
The Titans were the opponent for two of the Colts’ most memorable games last year. Luck picked up his first road victory on Oct. 28 in Nashville when Vick Ballard leapt and twisted into the end zone for a game-wining touchdown in overtime. During the third quarter of Indianapolis’ win over Tennessee on Dec. 9 at Lucas Oil Stadium, two Colts cheerleaders had their heads shaved just behind the Titans’ sideline in a show of support for Pagano in his battle against leukemia.
“I really think in a sense the country rallied around the Indianapolis Colts and Coach Pagano and just the community there,” Hasselbeck said. “I think the game that we played down there in Indy was the game where possibly some of the cheerleaders shaved their heads or something like that. It’s very rare in a game where you are playing an opponent, in division games, that the whole team takes a moment to basically give a standing ovation to the other team. There’s just a ton of respect around the league for the kind of season Indianapolis had.”
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson is counting on that respect being mutual.
Hasselbeck has a reputation as one of the best teammates in the NFL. He will be asked to serve as a mentor to Luck and to be an extra set of eyes on the sideline and in film sessions.
“His body of work, intangibles and extensive league experience speak for themselves,” Grigson said in a team release. “Those factors, plus his familiarity with our offensive scheme, will make him a great asset to our team and its vision as we move forward.”
There’s no doubt Hasselbeck already has a healthy respect for the man he will tutor. He said he’s yet to meet Luck, but he was impressed with the quarterback’s toughness and performance in his rookie season.
“He was a difference maker for that football team,” Hasselbeck said. “From one year to the next, the most obvious difference was the quarterback.”
Hasselbeck understands he’s not being brought in to compete for the starting job, but he said he’d be doing a disservice to himself and his teammates if he allowed that fact to alter his approach.
A backup quarterback is just one snap away from entering any game, and Hasselbeck said it’s his job to ensure he’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. He knows his role, and he seems to have few reservations about joining the Colts.
“The statistics would say that your backup quarterback is going to play,” he said. “Everyone hopes that he doesn’t, but the statistics are there that he does. For me, I just wanted to be a part of something special. I wanted to be a part of team that has a chance to win a Super Bowl, and I wanted to be working with really quality people.”