The 32-year-old QB fended off a first-round pick to win the starting job in Minnesota. He spent his first three seasons as a backup, then went 10--5 with the Patriots in 2008, filling in for an injured Tom Brady.
DAN PATRICK:What job is comparable to being a starting quarterback?
MATT CASSEL: It's kind of like being the president. I say that on a very modified scale, because everybody watches everything that you do. Everybody critiques you from every angle. They all have the answer. At the same time you have to go about your business and do what you think is right.
DP:How do you decompress from the pressure of your job?
MC: The one great part for me is I get to go home to three young children. All they do is run up and give me a hug.
DP:You've been through every level of being a quarterback—backup at USC, starter in the NFL. What's it like to have to hold off a rookie like Teddy Bridgewater?
MC: There's not a lot that surprises me at this point. This was a long battle throughout the off-season. I think I've worked harder than I have maybe for my whole career.
DP:What did you say to Mike Zimmer when he told you you were starting?
MC: I said, "Well, it's about time, Coach," to mess with him.
DP:Do quarterbacks have to be cocky?
MC: You've gotta have a little arrogance at this position. If you don't, it will eat you up and spit you out.
DP:Every former Patriot tells me Bill Belichick is a really funny guy. But they never tell me any funny stories.
MC: I would love to give stories, but it would be over a proper cocktail, because you can't really use the language.
DP:What kind of things did Belichick say?
MC: "Cassel, What in the [bleep] are we doing here? Did you not see the three-technique? Are we going to have to send a letter to your mother about why you're in the hospital because you can't see a blitz coming?"
DP:I love Belichick's press conferences.
MC: They're the best.
DP:You never know if he won or lost.
MC: That's how it is during the meetings. The year we went undefeated [during the regular season], I swear we lost half of our games. We'd blow teams out by 40, and he'd have a whole script about how we had to do this, that or the other. He never lets anybody get comfortable.
DP:Do you do a Tom Brady impression too?
MC: I don't know if my voice can go that high. When he gets upset, he gets real high and starts screaming at people. Beautiful.
DP:His press conferences are great too, because he looks great and says nothing.
MC: He's got style. Nobody can sport a mock turtleneck like he can.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is happy there's a playoff, but he wants more teams. "I can be the outlier who says four's not enough," Kelly told me. "It's a great start. But with five power conferences, somebody is going to be left out." ... Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner has advice for the Browns if they try to rotate two QBs during the same game: "Don't do it," Warner said. "We did something similar to that in Arizona in 2007 where Matt Leinart was the starter, and they would bring me in for no-huddle situations. It lends itself to division within the team." ... Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admits he still holds a grudge against Major League Baseball after his bids to buy the Cubs in 2008 and the Rangers in '10 were denied. And he feels the sport is headed in the wrong direction: "What's worked for baseball other than steroids? You just can't look at it and say it's a growth sport."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PATRICK)
JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES (CASSEL)
GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES (KELLY)
SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (WARNER)
GLENN JAMES/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (CUBAN)