On Sunday, 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck will go under center one more time in place of an injured Andrew Luck. Our columnist—who also happened to have been Hasselbeck’s first agent—looks back on the quarterback’s unlikely journey from draft-day nobody to franchise QB to elder statesman, and explains why ‘there is no better guy in the NFL’
Matt Hasselbeck starts a second tour of duty as the Colts’ starting quarterback this weekend due to injuries to starter Andrew Luck. Having known Matt and his family for almost two decades I admit to some bias, but I say this: There is no better guy in the NFL. Not only does he have innate and emotional intelligence that is off the charts (as his hometown Bostonians would say, he’s wicked smaht), but also he is a natural born leader with the right blend of machismo, humor and compassion.
Whether with former or current teammates, coaches, management, union leadership or media, when Matt’s name comes up, there is true admiration. Matt is one of those people where you know—you just know—he will be successful in no matter what endeavor he undertakes. And whenever the time comes when he is no longer playing, he will have the choice of several second-career options: coaching, broadcasting, union leadership, team management and more.
Despite a successful college career at Boston College, Matt was not invited to the annual scouting combine prior to the 1998 NFL draft. As his agent, I tried in vain to get him invited through all the scouts I knew. The responses I received ranged from being hung up on, to being told Matt was “not draftable” and “just a guy,” scout speak for a player written off by teams as not worthy of further attention.
Undeterred, we scheduled a private workout at Boston College and sent invitations to every NFL team. We received one reply. The quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers, someone named Andy Reid, would attend.
I saw an opportunity to spend quality time with Reid, our lone observer, and agreed to pick him up at the airport and drive him to the workout. Of course, I had never met or seen Reid and did a double take at his considerable dimensions when I pulled up in my sports car. To this day, Andy and I still laugh about wedging him into the passenger seat/back seat as we drove from Logan Airport to Boston College for Matt’s workout.
Reid was already a fan of Matt’s and liked what he saw so much that he shared his rankings of the top three quarterbacks coming out that year: (1) Peyton Manning, (2) Ryan Leaf and (3) Matt Hasselbeck. That energized Matt, now prepared for the reality that his only chance of being drafted was with Reid and the Packers. Sure enough, the Packers selected Matt in the sixth round, and Matt and Reid became very close in their one season together before Reid left to become head coach of the Eagles.
At the end of his first training camp, Matt went through the ultimate ecstasy and agony as the roster was set. When final cuts were announced, he was on the roster; we celebrated. A few hours later, however, the Bears released Rick Mirer, a player then-coach Mike Holmgren had long admired. Enter Mirer; Matt was demoted to the practice squad for his first of who-knew-how-many years.
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My move, Matt’s move
The following year I switched from working on the player side as an agent to working on the team side with, coincidentally, the Packers, going from Matt’s agent to “the guy upstairs.” However, despite now being on different sides of the table, Matt and I were neighbors and as close as ever, poster children for close relations between labor and management in the NFL.
A couple of years later the inevitable parting from Green Bay occurred, then a pattern with ascending Packers quarterbacks stuck behind Brett Favre, the most durable quarterback in NFL history. Approaching the 2001 draft, there were inquiries from several teams interested in acquiring Matt. Although Matt’s new agent was working on a contract with the Dolphins should a trade happen, general manager Ron Wolf and Holmgren, now running the Seahawks, agreed to a deal to send Matt there.
Wolf, knowing our relationship, told me to give Matt the news. I called Matt and said, “It’s done, you’re moving.”
Matt knew it was coming but was quiet, finally asking, “OK, what’s next?” I told him coach Holmgren would be calling.
“Holmgren? I thought I was going to Miami?”
I said, “No, Seattle.”
Matt took a deep breath, having experienced Holmgren during his rookie season on the practice squad (I had heard a lot of Holmgren stories as his agent that year). However, while we were talking, Matt had actually missed a call from Holmgren, who left quite a message. Holmgren talked about how he had his choice of many quarterbacks—including some well-known veterans—to lead them, and he chose Matt, having the utmost confidence in him. Matt—who still has that message—was stoked.
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Matt was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and led the Seahawks to multiple division titles and playoff appearances during his 10 years in Seattle, including an appearance in Super Bowl XL. He then spent two years with the Titans—both as a starter and a mentor for first-round pick Jake Locker—before moving to the Colts in 2013, where he has been Andrew Luck’s backup/mentor/counselor/coach/friend/confidante/guru ever since. Luck is extremely (pardon the pun) lucky to have Matt by his side during the early years of his NFL career. Now Matt, for the second time in this eventful season in Indianapolis, moves seamlessly into the starting role as Luck heals.
Now 40 years old, Matt is not even the oldest player on his own team—Adam Vinatieri (another former client of mine) will be 43 next month—but he is one of three NFL players left from the 1998 Draft. The other two—Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson—were picks Nos. 1 and 4, not to mention the winner and runner-up in Heisman Trophy voting in their final college seasons.
Matt was not invited to the Combine and drafted 187th, behind quarterbacks such as Leaf, Charlie Batch, Jonathan Quinn, Brian Griese and John Dutton (and right before Moses Moreno). That summer his career didn’t seem certain to get off the ground. Nearly two decades later, it is still flying high.