With his feet in the Bahamian sand, his daughter’s cellphone pressed to his ear and the twilight of his NFL career on his mind, Matt Hasselbeck weighed Chuck Pagano’s pitch.
Hasselbeck was set to hit the open market as a wanted commodity: a veteran Pro Bowl quarterback with plenty left in the tank. He hadn’t planned on a divorce from the Tennessee Titans, his third NFL team, yet there he stood: 37 years old, 14 seasons as a pro, and a free agent for the second time in three years.
He was a quarterback in need of a football team.
He had suitors. On vacation with his family in the Bahamas, Hasselbeck spent so much time discussing his future with his agent over the phone that AT&T shut off his service. (“Something about going over my international minutes,” he says with a laugh.) So he grabbed his daughter’s phone and listened as one team after another made its case.
No franchise chased harder than the Indianapolis Colts. Ryan Grigson made it clear he was offseason priority No. 1, and the Colts general manager brought in his coach, Pagano, to make the closing argument.
They talked for nearly an hour. Hasselbeck liked what he heard. The Colts were a championship contender, Pagano convinced him, a first-class organization with two young quarterbacks eager to learn.
Yet he hesitated, an obvious truth hovering over their conversation: Pagano had no starting quarterback job to offer. That belonged to Andrew Luck, and it would for some time. Hasselbeck knew this. He wavered.
“People ask me, ‘Was it a priority that you be the starting quarterback?’ ” Hasselbeck said. “Yeah, that’s what I wanted.”
Pagano asked him to look beyond that. So Hasselbeck reassessed. He saw in Luck a bursting, precocious talent that could one day go down as one of the best ever at the position. He could teach him. He saw in third-stringer Chandler Harnish himself all those years ago — a late-round pick, widely overlooked, resolute to beat the odds. He could show him.
He saw a team on the rise, a quarterback room to which he could bring a polished career and a seasoned football mind. Eventually, he saw what the Colts saw in him: the perfect fit.
He signed a two-year, $8 million deal in March.
“I wanted to start, sure, but more than anything, I wanted to win a Super Bowl,” he said. “That was my first priority. When it came down to it, that’s what I wanted most.
“And that’s why I’m here.”
The day Matt Hasselbeck met Andrew Luck, he saw Luck’s cellphone. He tweeted his disbelief.
It was at once a telling introduction to his new down-to-earth, distractions-be-damned teammate. Luck wasn’t like most quarterbacks in the NFL. His old-school, dinged-up cellphone proved it.
“It’s a great thing — he’s the first overall pick in the draft and he’s got this old phone that can’t even take a picture,” Hasselbeck said.
“He’s all about football, and he’s not all about being in the NFL. There’s a difference.”
The two hit it off immediately, the aging veteran doling out a decade of insights while the second-year starter worked to warrant respect. They were two quarterbacks, 14 years apart, one career on the ascent and one on decline.
The offseason toil commenced. They studied together, practiced together, absorbed a new offense together.
“It’s like learning a new language,” Hasselbeck said of the new system implemented by first-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. “I feel like I was in Spain the last two years, and now I’m in France.”
Luck’s steady, workmanlike approach promptly won Hasselbeck over.
“I don’t know many QBs that are that mature and that talented, and I’ve known a lot of quarterbacks,” Hasselbeck said. “Even from a distance, like I was, studying 32 football teams and their quarterback situations, you could tell. This kid has a chance to become one of the greatest of all time.
“For me now, sometimes it’s cool to just watch up close.”
As for the first day Hasselbeck met Chandler Harnish? He jokingly offered to buy Harnish’s jersey number. Harnish had a better idea.
Hasselbeck had worn No. 8 during a decade-long stint with Seattle and his two seasons in Tennessee. Before arriving in Indianapolis, he scoured the roster, only to find his favorite numeral already taken.