GLENDALE, Ariz. – It’s a situation Andrew Luck will find himself in a couple of dozen times in the coming Sundays of his life. Game tied. Late fourth quarter. His ball. His game.
Too bad this one didn’t come in New Orleans in the BCS national championship game.
Luck would have been the perfect marketing tool for Stanford in its quest to prove that academics and athletics don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
He would have been the perfect icon for the Pac-12 as it ushered in a new era with 12 teams, two divisions, a conference title game and a flashy new television network.
He would have been the perfect salve for the scandal-riddled, revenue-rank game of college football.
Luck: The All-American kid. The humble, articulate, braniac quarterback who passed on mega millions in the last year before the NFL rookie scale took hold so he could enjoy the relationships he built with his teammates, his classmates and his remarkably innovative and progressive community for one more year.
“Since he’s officially not completely mine any more, I will completely go over the top and say that he’s a Hall of Fame college football player,” Stanford coach David Shaw said after the Cardinal’s 41-38 overtime loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“They come around every 20 years or so. He hates to hear that, but it’s the doggone truth, and it’s got nothing to do with how he throws the ball.”
Luck deserved the biggest stage because he is everything that college football aspires to be — everything that it too often falls short of.
With so much pressure riding on him this season, he didn’t disappoint. Before Monday’s game he had completed 70 percent of his passes for more than 3,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. His career touchdown-to-interception ratio was nearly 4-to-1.
Off the field, he posted a 3.48 grade-point average and Pac-12 All-Academic honors at one of the nation’s elite universities while earning a degree in architectural design.
And on Monday, he had the Indianapolis Colts imagining life with another once-in-a-generation quarterback by completing 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and a pair of touchdowns while making the kind of tight-window and quick-read throws that most college quarterbacks take years to master.
Luck put his team in position to win on Monday, driving the Cardinal downfield for a game-winning, 35-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds that Jordan Williamson missed.
If not for a Nov. 12 loss in Oregon, the national spotlight might have belonged to Luck as he engineered this final drive, but he never gave it a second thought as he addressed the topic of his return for his academic senior year.
“Yes, it was worth it,” he said. “Not to say I enjoyed every moment. I didn’t, but I would never regret it. I grew a lot as a person and as a player and just in life.”
Luck will be the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL Draft unless the Colts have lost their minds. Peyton Manning’s future is in doubt, and he’s nearing the end of his career, anyway. Luck’s rare gifts are obvious, and the NFL, more than ever, is all about elite quarterback play.
“I’ll be happy wherever I land, (draft pick) 1 through 270,” he said. “Whatever. I just want a chance to play professional football.”
Before he turns his thoughts that way, however, Luck is taking one last drink of the college game whose taste he improved so dramatically with his simple presence.
“I’ll try and get some perspective on what just happened this year and in the last couple years here at Stanford,” he said. “Hopefully the losses will fade away and I’ll remember the wins and great moments and getting to be around my teammates and coaches.
“When the time feels right. your brain moves on to the next chapter, the next challenge.
“It’s tough to lose. It sucks. It stinks, but life moves on.”