You want experience? Elders Hasselbeck, Manning, Vinatieri share 829 games

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Matt Hasselbeck

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 6, 2015) – The numbers are engrained in Matt Hasselbeck’s mind, so they’re easily recited: 1, 4, 187.

They reflect the three holdovers from the NFL Draft Class of 1998, and two will hold a mini-reunion Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Yeah, three of us,’’ Hasselbeck said. “Picks 1, 4 and 187.”

“We had a cool class. We had a fun class.’’

And only three remain active.

1: Peyton Manning, selected first overall by the Indianapolis Colts. He’s now steering the fortunes of the Denver Broncos, and on the verge of setting more NFL records.

4: Charles Woodson, taken fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders. He and Manning got together earlier this season in Oakland.

187: Hasselbeck, plucked off the draft board by the Green Bay Packers with the 187th overall pick.

Hasselbeck, 40 and in his 17th season, is the NFL’s oldest active position player. Manning, 39 and in his 18th season, is next in line.

“Sure, you take pride in that,’’ Hasselbeck said.

The trio’s staying power is an aberration in an NFL that’s always looking to get younger and cheaper.

But making Sunday truly an Elder Statesman Day at Lucas Oil Stadium is Adam Vinatieri. He carries the distinction of being the league’s oldest active player. He’s 42 and still kicking, literally.

“It’s amazing because you don’t really think about the years,’’ said Vinatieri, whose 20-year career is divided evenly between the Colts and New England Patriots. “The seasons just kind of blend together. You never really feel like it’s been that long because they go by so fast.”

“Honestly, the first one is slow. You’re a rookie and you’re thinking ‘Please don’t screw up and don’t get cut.’ But then they’re just quicker and quicker.’’

Unlike Manning and Hasselbeck, Vinatieri wasn’t drafted. After a stint with Amsterdam of the World League in 1996, he signed with the New England Patriots as a street free agent. His final destination undoubtedly is Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now here we are, 20 years later for Vinatieri, 18 down the road for Manning and Hasselbeck, who spent his rookie season on the Packers’ practice squad.

“Guys that have longevity and guys that make it a long time make it for a long time for a reason,’’ Vinatieri said. “They’re smart and they’ve taken care of their bodies.

“They’re good players.’’

Consider some of the combined numbers:

  • Vinatieri, Manning and Hasselbeck have appeared in 764 regular-season games, 829 including the playoffs. Vinatieri’s 298 regular-season appearances rank No. 10 in NFL history, and no one has appeared in more than his 30 playoff games.
  • Manning and Hasselbeck have passed for 106,998 yards and 743 touchdowns, and won 268 games. Manning needs 284 yards and one win to eclipse Brett Favre’s NFL records of 71,838 and 186.

Vinatieri and Manning were teammates in Indy from 2006-11. Hasselbeck’s relationship with Manning goes much further back than the ’98 draft.

In 1984, their fathers – quarterback Archie Manning and tight end Don Hasselbeck – were teammates with the Minnesota Vikings. That allowed for some kidding around time at the Vikings’ practice facility in Eden Prairie, Minn. for Peyton and Cooper Manning and Matt and Tim Hasselbeck.

“We would play touch football in the bubble, the indoor facility, every Saturday against the trainers and equipment guys,’’ said Matt Hasselbeck, a fourth grader at the time. “My mom and Olivia (Manning) are friends. Eli (Manning) and my youngest brother Nathaniel were probably too young to hang with us.

“I’ve know them for a long, long time.’’

Speaking of a long time, how much longer does Hasselbeck see himself playing? He’s in his third year with the Colts and signed a one-year, $3 million contract March.

“I’ve always said I’m not trying to squeeze every bit out of this,’’ he said. “That’s not my goal. I’m not trying to play as long as I can.”

“I really haven’t thought about it. People try to take me down that path, but I don’t go there.’’

Hasselbeck is open to adding another year or two to his NFL resume, even if the Colts decide to move in another direction in 2016.

“If they don’t want me, what else would I do?’’ he asked with a laugh.

Quarterbacks have been known to excel on the golf course.

“Except me,’’ Hasselbeck said. “I’m so bad at golf. I’m terrible.’’