Luck-Mania Begins Devouring Its Own

This hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, and it reached its nadir on Sunday. Indianapolis lost at home to New Orleans 27-21 and Luck was booed by his own fans. This follows a steady stream of negative stories regarding his early season play. The phenomena of Luck-Mania—an insane premature coronation unlike any I’ve ever seen in any sport over my forty-plus years of watching sports—has finally come to devour its own.

Andrew Luck was given impossible standards to meet before he ever entered the NFL. Following his junior season at Stanford, Luck, fresh off leading the Cardinal to a beatdown of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, confounded conventional wisdom and chose to stay in school for his senior year. He would have been the #1 pick the 2010 draft (the honor that eventually went to Cam Newton) and his senior year of 2011 was dominated by a race to the bottom in the NFL.

“Suck For Luck” became the mantra of teams who weren’t in playoff contention. While tanking for a draft pick is a fact of life in the NBA, it doesn’t happen in the NFL. Maybe in the last week of the season when the top pick can go one of two ways, but Suck For Luck was different. Teams were talking about tanking as early as October and it wasn’t just the league’s worst.

This alone made Luck-Mania unbearable, but the ante was about to be increased. When the Colts won the “race” for the top pick it added a whole new element to the phenomena. Indianapolis had to decide whether to jettison Peyton Manning, fresh off four neck surgeries, or take Luck.

The option to keep Peyton was realistic. His eventual comeback can’t be seen as incredibly unrealistic—it certainly wasn’t for the myriad of teams that turned his eventual free agency tour into a virtual coronation ceremony. Furthermore, the decision was not strictly about Luck vs. Peyton, a paradigm that makes Luck an obvious choice based on youth. But that’s revisionist history. That was a lot more going for the Peyton side of this debate.

Indianapolis had the option to deal the top pick and get at least three first-rounders back in return. This is based on the fact that the 2-pick in this draft—the one used to select RG3—was deemed worth two first-rounders and a second-rounder by the Redskins. The modest uptick in price for the top pick is a conservative estimate of what Luck could have brought the Colts and it would have still included swapping picks with whomever their trading partner was (probably either the Redskins or Browns).

And if you’re worried about Peyton’s neck? Got you covered there. Draft Russell Wilson in the third round, when he was still available.

The other factor in this was that Indianapolis owned Peyton a balloon payment of $28 million if they kept him. Normally I’d take this consideration seriously. But given that NFL teams in general print money hand over fist and then Bob Irsay in particular walks around town randomly throwing out $100 bills to fans, I’m going to say that money should have not been a factor in this decision.

So this is the context that Andrew Luck entered the NFL. There were multiple teams ready to blow entire seasons to get him and the one that “earned” the opportunity kicked the greatest player in the history of its city to the curb, along with the chance to draft three high-quality impact players and another quarterback who already has a Super Bowl ring. Luck was essentially told to justify that price. He hasn’t—not because he isn’t a good quarterback, but because he’s merely human.

How about we let Luck-Mania drift into the annals of history? He’s not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. He might not ever get to that level. But he’s still the kind of quarterback you build around for 10-15 years. He’s still a tough guy and a competitor. If you want to sell me on that, I’ll buy. But if you want to sell me that he’s Brady or Rodgers—or on the reverse end, that he’s now responsible for his team’s failings—then I’ll pass. That’s the sane view of Andrew Luck.