Football: Brainerd's gentle giant enjoys successful homecoming
MINNEAPOLIS—It's said linemen in the National Football League need to have a nasty streak in them.
It's hard to believe Joe Haeg could even curse let alone impose his physical will on an opponent. On Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, that is exactly what the Indianapolis Colts' rookie did or was. Joe Haeg was nasty.
For Colts fans, or one of about 70-some Haeg family and friends in attendance, he was nasty in a good way. The Brainerd High School and North Dakota State University graduate started at right guard against the Minnesota Vikings and he and his fellow linemen helped the Colts' offense register 411 yards of offense leading to a 34-6 beatdown of the home team.
"It was great out there," Haeg said in the locker room afterward. "We executed our game plan just how we wanted to. We were able to come out with the victory. We were just taking it one play at a time."
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- Hometown: Lake Shore
- High School: Brainerd
- College: North Dakota State University
- Professional: Indianapolis Colts
- Position: Offensive lineman
- Year: Rookie season
- Height: 6-foot-6
- Weight: 304 pounds
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The Colts did it with a balanced attack. Indy rushed for 161 yards on 40 rushes led by Frank Gore's 101 yards. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was an impressive 21-of-28 for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a quarterback rating of 125.6 compared to Sam Bradford of the Vikings' 84.5 rating.
"I think we had great preparation," said Haeg. "A lot of our game plan we felt very strongly about. We had to keep it simple in some aspects and just try and win in the trenches. Our run game was really hitting well. I think that was something that was huge early on to get that momentum going."
Minnesota's daunting defense that was ranked near the top of the NFL managed zero sacks and just two hurries as Haeg and the Colts' offensive line kept Luck on his feet all game.
It was a change from the team's first 13 games when Luck was hit a total of 187 times, including 37 sacks. But indianapolis' offensive line, which was a concern coming into the season, has been hampered by injuries. Which, in a way, was good for the 6-foot-6, 304-pound Haeg, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Colts. He was one of four offensive lineman taken by Indy in last spring's draft.
Haeg already has started at right guard, left guard and right tackle. On Sunday, against a Vikings' defense that had produced more than 30 sacks already this season, Haeg started at right guard with fellow rookie Ryan Kelly of Alabama starting at center and rookie Le'Raven Clark of Texas Tech starting at right tackle.
But, heading into the game, Haeg felt the unit was finding cohesiveness.
"Obviously, we've had two rookies who have been playing for us a lot and we're just trying to understand the thought process that everyone goes through," he said. "I think we've been really able to come together, especially these last five or six games. It's shown in our play and it's awesome to be a part of."
Haeg said the amount he's learned in just a few months is unparalleled to what he's experienced before.
From learning new offenses and new techniques to going up against familiar names, he said it's been a surreal experience.
"Just this rookie year alone, and the guys talk about it all the time, you're going to learn the most and have the biggest jump in your playing level and how much you're learning and understanding the game," said Haeg. "Even between now and Game Three and Four, I've learned so much. I've been able to learn some new technique and it's been something that's been awesome. I have great teammates around me who are trying to help out us young guys."
There was some worry about Haeg's allegiances Sunday. The Lake Shore resident grew up a Vikings fan enjoying the many wins of the Daunte Culpepper-Randy Moss-Cris Carter era.
Before the game, Haeg said many of teammates were worried he was going to throw the game for his former favorite team.
"It was something growing up, I was always watching the Vikings' games," Haeg said. "Im sure I know how many of them are feeling right now. I know how the fan base is, but it was fun."
About the only thing wrong with Sunday was the temperature outside. Haeg was worried his teammates would get the wrong impression of his home state and think it's frozen all year long.
"I think everybody has a bad idea of what Minnesota is like," Haeg said with a laugh. "I told them it's not that bad and to come back in the summer when it's a little nicer."
After Sunday's win, he may not want them to come back. The Colts' locker room was abuzz with Haeg's Minnesota lingo. One teammate asked when the Jaycees' ice fishing contest was. Punter Pat McAfee couldn't figure out why reporters were talking to an offensive lineman.
Immersed in all the tomfoolery was Haeg. Tall, large, long hair, big smile. It was really all he could do. Just smile. As a rookie, sometimes you just have to grin and bear it and save the nastiness for the football field.