Heisman winners looking at Luck vs. Oregon
Most visitors to Jim Plunkett’s house want to see his Heisman
Trophy. Maybe even pose for a photo with the bronze statue and the
only Stanford alum to win the prestigious award.
Not Andrew Luck.
He’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy.
During a homemade dinner Plunkett hosted at his house last year,
Luck stuck to the basics: a plate of beef tenderloin, potatoes and
other vegetables Plunkett cooked for the current crop of Cardinal
quarterbacks, sprinkled with a side of football talk past and
present. The tantalizing trophy room down the hall stayed
”I don’t think he ever walked over there,” Plunkett said. ”We
don’t necessarily talk about the Heisman.”
Not after decades of disappointment.
In the years since Plunkett brought the Heisman back to the Bay
Area in 1970, no West Coast player outside of Southern California
has won the award. John Elway finished second and so did Toby
Gerhart and Luck the last two years.
”It would be nice to have another Stanford player come out to
New York with me as a winner,” Plunkett said in an interview with
The Associated Press this week. ”I would take a certain amount of
pride in that. I look forward to that happening someday. Hopefully
it’s going to happen with Andrew Luck. I don’t know. I certainly
hope it does.”
How soon the drought ends could depend largely on this week.
Luck will take the biggest and brightest stage of his career
Saturday night when he leads undefeated and third-ranked Stanford
against No. 6 Oregon, the only team to defeat the Cardinal and the
star quarterback during a two-year run of near-perfection.
A national television audience will be watching college
football’s showcase game, including voters looking for Luck to
seize the moment and perhaps a spot in the sport’s most famed
fraternity. Just ask last year’s winner.
”I think this week is going to be a very good test,” said Cam
Newton, the Carolina Panthers rookie and former Auburn quarterback.
”I’ve been tuning in and I’m a big fan of Andrew Luck. I had an
opportunity to meet him last year and I think he’s an unbelievable
guy, first off. And on the field, well, everybody sees what he does
on the field.
”I’m rooting for him.”
The difference between taking home the award and losing it could
be the difference between a win and a loss against an Oregon team
that stifled Stanford’s offense in the second half last season.
If Luck helps avenge that 52-31 defeat in Eugene and keeps the
Cardinal (9-0, 7-0 Pac-12) in the national championship race, he
could run away from the pack. If he and Stanford stumble, the race
could get tighter in a hurry.
As former winners know, big games make or break Heisman
”You have to get hot at the right time,” said Carson Palmer,
the Oakland Raiders quarterback and 2002 Heisman winner at Southern
California. ”It’s kind of like the playoffs in the NFL or
basketball. If you get hot in March Madness or you get hot in the
NFL playoffs, it doesn’t matter what your regular-season record was
if you start playing your best football at the right time.
”So right now it’s kind of go-get-it time for him.”
Luck began the season as one of the most overwhelming favorites
for the award in years.
After turning down a chance to be the NFL draft’s No. 1 pick and
making scouts salivate over his potential for another year, Luck
has matched the hype and – perhaps more importantly – kept Stanford
While Luck might win the win award anyway, another loss to
Oregon would always be a blemish.
Elway returned for his senior year in 1982 and became the NFL’s
top pick the following April, although a loss in the Big Game
against rival California with the infamous image of the Stanford
band running on the field on the final play might have cost him the
trophy. Plunkett, meanwhile, led Stanford to the Rose Bowl his
final year during one of the program’s golden eras.
Luck’s legacy at Stanford is still unfinished.
”I hope it may be defined by more down the road. Maybe more big
games,” Luck said. ”Dan Marino never won the big game. He’s
obviously one of the great players of all time. So you want to win
the big games, but you don’t get caught up in it. Maybe down the
road you’ll think back and say, `I’m glad my legacy was created by
this game or whatever.’ But I don’t want to get caught up in it
Luck cares more now than he shows on the surface.
While he is nothing if not humble, he admits the award would
mean so much to so many others close to him and the university. A
copy of Plunkett’s Heisman rests, ever so lonely, in a glass case a
few steps from where Luck’s weekly roundtable with reporters is
held. Luck acknowledged he has glanced at the award a time or
In the midst of a rigorous season, though, the bronze statuette
may seem secondary. The honor often comes to mean more in the years
”It changed my life because, I mean, there’s only 75 (other)
people that ever won a Heisman Trophy,” said Alabama’s 2009
Heisman winner, Mark Ingram, now the New Orleans Saints’ running
back. ”So you’re in an elite group, an elite fraternity of
brothers that everybody can’t be a part of, so it’s something
Luck has been riding the wave of Stanford’s spectacular
The quarterback’s statistics are superb – 2,424 yards, 26
touchdown passes and a 174.1 passer rating that is fifth in the
country – but not all that more than other contenders’. The
difference is Alabama’s Trent Richardson, Baylor’s Robert Griffin
III, Boise State’s Kellen Moore, Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson and
Oregon’s LaMichael James all are on teams outside of the national
title race – for now – and none have received the attention that
has surrounded Luck since spring practice.
Stanford played a relatively weak first-half schedule until
topping USC in triple overtime two weeks ago, a game where Luck
threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown late in
regulation, then rallied the Cardinal with four straight TD drives
in a moment that might come to symbolize his Heisman campaign.
That is, depending on what happens against Stanford’s Pac-12
”They have a big game this week with Oregon coming to town, and
they win that I think they’ll be in the BCS title game,” said
Gerhart, the Minnesota Vikings running back and Stanford’s
runner-up in 2009. ”So big one for him. As long he keeps
performing – it helps when they’re winning and they get national
games on TV – there’s no doubt in my mind he’s the best college
player in the land.”
While many Heisman members will be watching a continent away,
Plunkett will be in attendance as he is for most Stanford home
The former Cardinal and Oakland Raiders quarterback has known
Luck almost four years and has cheered every step of his evolution
– as a quarterback, student and public speaker. One of his fondest
memories was watching Luck handle himself in a TV interview earlier
As Plunkett looked on with his wife, Geraldine, the two couldn’t
help but chuckle.
”He was humble, somewhat shy, and he stumbled a little bit and
didn’t know quite what to say,” Plunkett said. ”It reminded me of
me. It’s just reminiscent how I acted at one point in my
Back before he was a Heisman winner.
AP Sports Writers Josh Dubow in Alameda, Calif., Steve Reed in
Charlotte, N.C., Brett Martel in Metarie, La., and Dave Campbell in
Eden Prairie, Minn., contributed to this story.
Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP