“The good thing about Peyton was: He won the right way,” said Greg Ballard, an Indianapolis native and now the city’s mayor. “You can’t just win in Indiana. You have to win the right way with the right folks.”
Thursday night, the weight of expectations to win with a certain straightforward, Midwestern earnestness will be passed to the wide-smiling, architecture-loving son of an NFL quarterback. The Colts have the first pick in the NFL draft and have announced they will take Andrew Luck. The Stanford quarterback will be thrust into a virtually unprecedented situation, taking over for a legend who not only transformed a franchise but, to some degree, a city — and then was pushed out.
Since the Colts selected Manning with the first pick in the 1998 draft, 11 other quarterbacks have gone to 11 other franchises with the top overall choice. Some (Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Matthew Stafford) have found varying degrees of success. Others (Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell, David Carr) have been busts.
None, though, has encountered the circumstances that will confront Luck. Last month, the Colts released Manning, who signed with Denver. They could not have done so if they didn’t feel they had the perfect fit as his replacement.
“People always ask about pressure,” said Luck’s father, Oliver, a quarterback for the Houston Oilers for five years and now athletic director at West Virginia, his alma mater. “At the end of the day, there’s pressure on every quarterback playing in the National Football League. Unlike in physics, I’m not sure there are different degrees of pressure. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
That is the consensus among most who have evaluated Luck, who threw for 82 touchdowns and just 22 interceptions in 38 games at Stanford. In each of his final two years, he completed more than 70 percent of his passes. His strong, accurate arm, nimble feet and smarts have had NFL scouts raving.
Still, much of the buzz since late in the college football season surrounded Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who edged Luck for the 2011 Heisman Trophy and will be selected with the pick after him, by the Washington Redskins. Everything about Griffin — his smile, his personality, his athleticism — sparkles, so it was easy to formulate an intriguing pre-draft question: Should the Colts actually pass on Luck?