INDIANAPOLIS -- Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck used to submerge himself into the freezing temperatures of the cold tub after games and practices, with one thought:
“Dear God, if there’s anything else that would work with the cold tub and it’s not the cold tub, please let me know what it is.”
The Indianapolis Colts quarterback found an answer. It took a trip to San Francisco to see a human performance coach during the 2011 lockout to find a method that worked for him. Now, Hasselbeck is proving he can still be relevant in the NFL as he leads the Colts while franchise quarterback Andrew Luck is out, becoming the hottest quarterback not named Tom Brady, Cam Newton or Brock Osweiler.
The 40-year-old Hasselbeck is 4-0 as a starter. He has the Colts sitting atop the AFC South and has shown the value that the right backup quarterback can have for a team. He's the 19th quarterback to throw a pass while at least 40 years old since 1960, and he’s the only one of the group who hasn’t lost a game.
The Colts need Hasselbeck to continue to play well to stay in playoff contention because there hasn't been a date set for Luck to return from his lacerated kidney and abdomen injury.
“Go with the Satchel Paige old quote, ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?’ That’s kind of what he lives by,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “It’s awesome. He does a great job of preparing. He takes care of himself, obviously. He understands football, he understands what we’re doing, he works extremely hard Monday through Sunday preparing himself, watching himself, correcting himself, getting the plan down and obviously at his age being 4-0 as a backup quarterback, it’s great for us. We’re very, very fortunate and I just hope he keeps it going.”
Hasselbeck has always been a believer in trying new things to help his body mentally and physically in the offseason such as yoga, working with a philanthropist, and meeting with the admiral of the Navy to talk about leadership.
That’s where his trip to San Francisco to meet with human performance coach Kelly Starrett comes in. Hasselbeck read Starrett’s book “Becoming a Supple Leopard” and knew he worked with San Francisco Giants pitchers to help with their mobility.
“I go see this guy and he says there’s no proof that the cold tub is effective,” Hasselbeck said. “Between training camp and now I never step foot in the ice tub.”
Starrett’s recommendation to Hasselbeck was to wear compression socks.
Yes, socks as an alternative to the ice tub. Hasselbeck wears them consistently, from training camp through the end of the season.
“You have to understand people are the product of the system and if the system does something all the time one way, we inherit what we know,” Starrett said. “It turns out cold therapy stops the healing process of the body. The last thing you want to do is put the brakes on the ability to heal, and the research is very clear that icing a problem is one the fastest ways to limit your body’s ability to heal that injury. It turns out there are a lot better ways to manage the swelling, manage the congestion.”
Hasselbeck’s ability to be able to throw the ball down the field and run an offense effectively goes beyond how quickly his body recovers after taking a pounding.
He trains in the offseason like he’s a 25-year-old quarterback. He went into the mountains of Washington and hired a “football guru” to train him twice a day while also working with other NFL quarterbacks and receivers during the summer of 2014. Hasselbeck altered his bye weekend plans this season to work out with tight end Coby Fleener in Florida once the Colts announced that Luck would be out 2-6 weeks.
“I can’t say I’m surprised. That’s how he is,” Hasselbeck’s younger brother and ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck said. “Based on how he works at his craft, trains and throws the ball, he could start for a number of other teams at 40 years old.”
Matt Hasselbeck is the definition of a soccer dad. He helps his wife Sarah take their three kids to different sporting activities. His nonstop schedule and dedication to being a part of his children’s activities makes it tough for him at times to stick with certain diets. He often eats with Luck and the 26-year-old tells him what he can “eat and can’t eat.” The Colts have a sundae bar the night before games, and while others are having ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, Fleener -- the “fun police,” according to Hasselbeck -- limits the quarterback to fruit and “maybe a scoop of whipped cream.”
“Coby is completely annoying to be around,” Hasselbeck said jokingly. “I would put that in the category of when you hang around young healthy people. They make you better. It is a struggle at times, but I’m pretty aware of what I eat for the most part.
“I’ll have an egg white omelet in the morning, oatmeal with fruit. I try to have a ton of fruit and vegetables. I just try to eat a ton of carbs, but do it at breakfast and lunch. I’m not (receiver) Griff Whalen (a vegan), I do eat meat.”
The Colts have 10 players on their roster who are at least 32, including 42-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri. And what Hasselbeck has done this season -- one of the feel-good stories of the NFL -- has made others on the roster believers.
“I’m one of those older guys and he’s playing for any guy that’s close to his age,” linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. “I look at it this way, you have one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Andrew Luck and you want someone behind him that you trust your team with. We have that. I’m not surprised one bit how he’s played.”
Hasselbeck doesn’t put a timetable on how much longer he’ll play. It's a "contract-to-contract" thing, he said.
“I have a few people in my life and I've said to them that they can tell me, ‘You need to call it.’ I’ve given them full freedom to do it,” Hasselbeck said. “Nobody knows who they are and I’ll never tell who they are outside of (quarterback coach) Clyde [Christensen]. I would think that I would know when to retire, but I’ve seen guys that didn’t know. They’re in denial. I don’t want to be like that."