x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Much ado about Andrew Luck

With Peyton Manning injured, fans are running a social media campaign for the Indianapolis Colts to buy an untried and untested quarterback.

Andrew Luck is being hailed as “the next best thing” to Peyton Manning, the injured Indianapolis Colts quarterback.
Andrew Luck is being hailed as “the next best thing” to Peyton Manning, the injured Indianapolis Colts quarterback.

A typical NFL-related conversation these days centres on someone who does not play in the league. Never has. He carries the same affiliation as you or I.

No matter. Clusters of fans cursed with dreadful teams this season seek solace by invoking his name in a plea to the football gods: Play matchmaker between this beauty of a quarterback and our beast of a squad. Some precincts have taken up a mildly naughty rhyme involving his surname as a slogan that essentially urges their habitually losing franchises to stay the course in hopes of reaping a consolation prize: lead-off pick in the 2012 draft.

Such is the fascination with the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes that newspapers soon will invert the standings to spell out the contenders for the junior from Stanford.

Last Sunday morning, the worst-of-the-worst list would have been topped by Miami and Indianapolis. Dolphins and Colts acolytes clinging to the belief that in sports, as in life, darkness inevitably gives way to light - could see past the zeroes in the win column. If their teams continue to muck it up for Luck, they reasoned, he could become theirs.

Some Indy devotees had taken to outfitting themselves at games in makeshift Luck jerseys. As a courtesy to incumbent players, they assigned to Luck the No 12, which nobody on the roster wears.

To Colts officials and loyalists, these fun-lovers are as obnoxious as Occupy protesters setting up camp in your front lawn. If nothing else, they are considered pains in the neck in the presence of No 18.

That would be Peyton Manning, who already has endured enough pain in his neck that he hardly needs any cluckers for Luck around. Three medical procedures within 19 months have idled him all year. His absence has sent a team and a city into a tailspin.

Manning seems bent on returning this season, motivated surely by a yearning to dissuade team management from spending lots of bucks on Luck.

The stuck-on-Luck contingent, mindful of Manning's incalculable contributions to the Colts, are not necessarily disrespectful. Four young fans at Sunday's game softened the campaign by spelling out L-U-C-K on their painted chests while unfurling a home-made banner that read, "The next best thing to Manning."

The yuks for Luck do hint at a concern taken seriously by some: that teams could purposely try and finish with the lousiest record, thus jumping to the front of the NFL draft line. It has prompted debate on whether the league should temporarily shelve its draft procedure, which awards first pick to the worst team, and adopt the NBA's lottery system that discourages a short-term de-emphasis on winning.

Relax. No way will a player risk providing video evidence of half-heartedness by underpefroming - looking like a schmuck for Luck - even if subtly asked by a team authority. No authority would ask anyway, particularly not a coach. In Indy and Miami, Jim Caldwell and Tony Sparano's future employment prospects would be diminished by the stain of a wretched record.

Of course, starters could be replaced by understudies, but the reasoning could be legitimate. On chronic losers, whole rosters require evaluating. Besides, how worse could the back-ups be than the regulars? Reserves under the microscope tend to show pluck, with or without the spectre of Luck.

The Andrew Luck phenomenon is a byproduct of social media, the tendency of up-and-comers from any walk of life to get overhyped; the elevation of unproven quarterbacks to potential franchise saviours.

Take note of rookies Cameron Newton (Carolina Panthers) and Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals) and point out that Luck was rated more highly than both until he bypassed the last draft. One plus one equals ... three, sometimes.

Two words: Ryan Leaf. Two more: Jamarcus Russell. Both were drummed out of the league after playing like yuck.

Luck, whose father lasted five pro seasons at quarterback, displays no mechanical or character flaws that, in hindsight, should have been evident with Leaf (No 2 overall in the 1998 draft) and Russell (No 1 in 2007). Still, there is no sure thing in talent evaluation.

Phil Simms, the television analyst, who mastered the position, said of Luck: "I just don't see big-time throws ... He never takes it and rips it in there."

In Indianapolis, the Colts raised the volume on Luck chatter by losing to the Atlanta Falcons. The Dolphins? They left their followers torn between elation and despair by beating the Kansas City Chiefs, thus putting Manning's team ahead in the risky game of possibly getting stuck with Luck.

Oh, there are other gifted quarterbacks in the draft, including one Landry Jones of Oklahoma. Moans and Groans Will Lead Us To Jones. Hey, how does that sound, Miami?