There were some fall Sundays in 2013 and 2014 when Matt Hasselbeck would get a "funny feeling" while driving home from work. On such a day he'd think back over another long week of NFL preparation – the type he has been putting in for 17 solid years – and realize he had not had the opportunity to put any of it to use on the field. Such is the life of a reserve quarterback playing behind a starter who never misses a game.
"But that's the job description," said Hasselbeck, who describes his teammate Andrew Luck as 'a little Favre-ish.' "It's not always easy, but that's the job. You've got to be ready to go in and play well if your team needs you."
Brett Favre, of course, is the soon-to-be-Hall of Famer who started an incredible 297 straight games from 1992 to 2010, most of them in Green Bay. Hasselbeck was Favre's backup in 1999 and 2000; he threw 29 passes. Luck, the Colts' starter since he was picked first overall in the 2012 NFL draft, started every game during his first three seasons, two of them with Hasselbeck on the sideline. His streak came to an end earlier this year, however, due to a right shoulder ailment that kept him out of two games in October, and now he's out again with abdomen and kidney injuries. Suddenly, Hasselbeck, at age 40, is getting to put his week's worth of work to good use again, and his 3-0 record as a starter in 2015 has helped Indy keep its season afloat.
"Obviously we feel very fortunate that we have Matt in the building and on our ball club," said Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano. "He's done a great job. He's got a ton of experience, a ton of snaps under his belt and he's played at a high level for a long time. Ever since he's stepped into this building, he's prepared as a starter and he's been great for Andrew, he's been great for our offense, and when called to duty, he's come through for us. He's a pro's pro and his preparation is outstanding."
Between stints backing up ironman passers, Hasselbeck himself was a long-time starter in Seattle, leading the Seahawks to the playoffs in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and all the way to the Super Bowl in '05. He has a career passer rating of 82.5 and the 20th most passes attempted in NFL history. Of course, experience only takes you so far if your skills have been eroded by time, but Hasselbeck has obviously shown this year that he is still a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, even at the ripe old age of 40. That takes work, too, and it's clear that Hasselbeck has been putting it in for the last three years, even when it seemed unlikely he'd see the field.
"First and foremost, I obviously wish Andrew wasn't hurt, like everybody in the State of Indiana," he said. "Everyone wishes he was 100 percent and that he was the guy under center. But that's part of my job. I have to be ready to go and to help carry his team while he's out. That's just the nature of the game. It's very rare for a quarterback to start all 16 games of the regular season. He's done it his entire career. But I can never take that for granted, so I've prepared each and every week, each and every year, to be ready to go."
Photos of the Colts' projected starters as listed on the team's depth chart.
Hasselbeck himself might not have known just as well his body would respond to his first real NFL action since 2012 until he was pressed into service against Jacksonville in Week Four. He completed 30 of 47 passes for 282 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a 16-13 Colts victory. The next weekend, in Houston, he was even better despite battling an illness. Indy got a big division road win in Week Five as Hasselbeck completed 18 of 29 for 213 yards, two touchdowns, no pick and a 107.4 rating. He is now the 11th quarterback in NFL history to start and win a game at the age of 40 or more, and the first to do so since…yep, Brett Favre in 2010. And he feels good.
"I was really, really sick for that Houston game and I really didn't know if I could handle it," said Hasselbeck. "But, aside from that, I really hadn't played football in a while. I didn't play in 2013, I didn't play in 2014, so I was curious how, physically, I would feel, but I feel great. I feel great. I haven't necessarily been very sore at all on a Monday. I've trained hard while I haven't been getting reps. In fact, I probably feel better now than I felt in 2008, 2009. Probably just, again, from training better, training different and just being smarter about how I take care of my body in between things."
Turns out all that hard work is paying off, especially for the Colts. At least for now, Hasselbeck can feel fully satisfied on his drive home from work.