January 29, 2009
Nick Friedell is in Tampa helping to cover Super Bowl XLIII for Shutdown Corner.
It seems apropos that Matt Cassel is serving as spokesperson for Gatorade this week. The energy drink company is in the midst of a re-branding campaign; the product is the same but the perception is different. One of the new Gatorade logos is now just a G.
Cassel has recently undergone a similar transformation. By now you know the story ... career backup finally gets a chance to shine, leads Patriots to an 11-5 record -- on the verge of a multi-million dollar contact.
The California native would fit right into all those "What's G?" commercials you've seen too. It's almost surprising that Cassel hasn't landed in a spot of his own yet.
"What's G?" you can picture him saying, "G is making the most of your opportunity ..."
The USC alum finds himself in some unfamiliar territory this week in Tampa. No longer is he just the tall guy holding a clipboard in the shadows of a bigger star.
Now he is the star.
When you sit down and speak to him it's clear that he is not overwhelmed by the Super Bowl media circus. "It's all new and fresh to me," Cassel admitted yesterday.
Here is a portion of our conversation:
Shutdown Corner: A few months ago I wrote a story about your brother Jack [who at the time was pitching for the Houston Astros] and he told me about the family's athletic prowess. You both married National Championship winning volleyball players from USC and your younger brother Justin is a top prospect in the White Sox system. Who is the best athlete in the family?
Cassel: They're good, but they're not at that level.
SDC: Does the Cassel family have the deepest gene pool in the country?
Cassel: It's pretty crazy. We feel very blessed to be three brothers all in professional athletics. It's a pretty cool gene pool to be a part of. Hopefully we can carry on to future generations. (Smiles) Bring out an IPO, a little stock offer.
SDC: On the field this year, how were you able to have the success that you had. Is there some sort of secret?
Cassel: It's just hard work and knowing the game plan and continuing to grow with confidence. I think early on I was just trying to adjust to the game speed and then once I was able to adjust to the game speed we were able to open up the offense a little bit. We were able to move forward and grow confidence in one another.
SDC: Is game experience in your mind overrated to a certain extent?
Cassel: Until you get in there and start doing it you don't really know what you're capable of. For a number of years I sat on the sideline and watched and prepared but to say that I was totally comfortable when I first got in there I couldn't say that. So, I don't think game experience is overrated at all, I think it's huge.
SDC: Let's say you worked at a bank and you watched the person in front of you for a few years and then had to take his or her place. Do you think you would have had the same success? In other words, is the process of being promoted more mental than anything else, regardless of what you're doing?
Cassel: I was lucky enough to have a mentor in Tom Brady, who showed me how to be a professional in every sense of the word. From preparation off the field, mental preparation, physical preparation, how to take care of your body. I just tried emulate everything that he did on and off the field. If I had a guy like that in a different sector of business, whether it be banking or something like that, who was the top guy and was willing to help, then of course I think that would be huge in your development.
SDC: Speaking of Brady, if I were to give you a dollar for every time you said his name or were asked a question about him over the last six months, how much money would I be giving you?
Cassel: (Smiles) We're talking quite a few bills here. It's not a cheap penny. I get one [question] a day, at least, if not multiple. Whether it's "How's he feeling?", "How many times have you talked to him?" I'm like, "Ah, well." It's a lot of those questions.
SDC: Do you ever joke with him and say, "Dude, am I ever going to get out of your shadow?"
Cassel: That just goes with the territory. He's a guy that came before me and I understand that ... I know that those questions are going to be there.
SDC: You've obviously seen the report that said he's trying to come back by the start of the season. If he does, and you're still on the team, will you be OK with that?
Cassel: That's just how it goes, you know? I'll do what I've always done which is continue to work hard, get ready to go. If I'm called upon and I'm with the Patriots then I'll be ready to go.
SDC: You sound pretty sincere in your response.
Cassel: Well, I've been in the back-up role for a long time. That's just how it is and I understand the role. I want to see Tom come back as healthy as ever. He's a friend of mine and you never want to see a guy go out with an injury, especially that caliber of player. So, I hope he's back to be completely honest and I say that sincerely. I don't want to wish anything bad upon anybody. If I'm with the team I'm going to give him all the support he needs, to do what he needs to do.
SDC: But you'd be mentally ready if you were to play for another team next season?
Cassel: Yeah. That's fair to say too.
SDC: In your mind which job comes with more pressure: Being a quarterback for USC or being a quarterback for the Patriots?
Cassel: I'd definitely say being the quarterback for the Patriots. It's such a different scale, because there's still amateurism when it comes to USC ...
Cassel: (Smiles) A little bit. There's no doubt that there's a lot pressure to succeed and to win and do all that stuff [at USC] ... but at the same time this year was crazy for me because you step into an organization that's been known for winning, and won consistently for so many years and so you have to step your game up to meet that level of play.
SDC: All right, we'll wrap it up on this one. When you first burst onto the scene this year, a lot was made of the fact you hadn't started a game since high school. Your high school pictures became a bit of an internet sensation ...
Cassel: HA! I got some calls from people and they were like, "What is that Zack Morris haircut?" That was the cool 'do back in the day.
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