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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Andrew Luck's progress is Indianapolis Colts' good fortune

If Indy wanted a carbon copy of Peyton Manning, it made the right call in choosing the former Stanford Cardinal quarterback.

November 15, 2012|By Sam Farmer

Andrew Luck might have the NFL on a string, but that doesn't mean he has the Internet at his fingertips.

Smart quarterback? Without question.

Smartphone? Slow down there, Wozniak.

"I still have a flip phone," Luck told The Times this week, calling from that digital dinosaur. "It served me well and continues to serve me well. If it worked the past four years since high school, why change it now?"

It's a fittingly retro device for a guy who's making it feel like the late 1990s all over again in Indianapolis.

Same energy and promise from a young quarterback picked No. 1 overall. Same type of gym rat — like Peyton Manning, the son of a former NFL quarterback — who can't get his hands on enough video cut-ups.

And, yes, the same clamshell cellphone.

If the Colts were looking for a carbon copy of Manning, they made the right call.

"He's not Peyton Manning, but I swear he has a lot of the mannerisms," said Hall of Fame coach John Madden, who lives in Pleasanton in Northern California and saw a lot of Luck's games at Stanford. "You watch all the games and you just watch him. He does things understanding the game and playing, you just get the feeling that he's a young Peyton Manning there. He has different skills. He can run, and he runs pretty fast, but just the command."

In a bizarre coincidence, Luck and Denver's Manning had identical passing totals through eight games, 2,404 yards, and both have their new teams at 6-3 and on track for the playoffs.

Through nine games, Luck is ranked eighth in yards passing with 2,631, and has thrown for 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Those numbers have been eclipsed by Manning's — 2,705, 21 touchdowns with six interceptions — yet Luck has been an unmitigated bonanza for the Colts. With Manning sidelined because of neck problems last season, Indianapolis finished 2-14.

On Sunday, Luck and the Colts play at New England, where Manning and the Patriots' Tom Brady forged the NFL's greatest rivalry of the last decade. Luck isn't trying to be Manning 2.0, even though fans on the streets of Indianapolis frequently remind him he has gigantic cleats to fill.

"I understand it," Luck said. "I was one of the biggest Peyton fans out there, and still am. I really enjoyed watching him when I was growing up. Reminders happen. It's part of living in Indianapolis and being part of the Colts. I've learned to either not listen or pretend to be ignorant or whatever.

"But I know on my end I don't want to wake up and compare myself to him every day and say, 'Well, he did this. So I'd better do this, this and this.' I think I'd go crazy because he did everything — and did everything well.

"He's certainly the benchmark for quarterback play in the NFL. So I haven't gotten emotionally hijacked over the situation, as Coach Harbaugh used to say."

Coach Harbaugh is former Stanford leader Jim Harbaugh, now coach of the San Francisco 49ers. It was in Palo Alto that Luck went from prized recruit to perhaps the closest thing to a can't-miss quarterback prospect since fellow Cardinal star John Elway in 1983.

Even Elway, now the Broncos' top football executive, is getting a charge out of watching Luck play.

"Everyone sees his physical ability," Elway said. "But having been around him and knowing what he is, what type of guy he is, the competitor he is, Indy's going to be right there competing year in and year out because of him. He's tremendous. He's going to have a great career."

It wasn't a particular pass by Luck that impressed Elway the most. In fact, it was an interception — or, more specifically, the way the burly quarterback bolted upfield in his most recent game and put a hit on Jacksonville safety Dawan Landry, who had just picked off Luck's pass. Landry was able to lateral just as Luck was taking out his legs.

"I loved that," Elway said. "Just barreled into that guy. He's a football player that's a great quarterback too."

Apprised of Elway's kind words about sacrificing his body, Luck sent a lateral of praise right back to the Broncos icon.

"I remember watching John Elway do the helicopter into the end zone in the Super Bowl," he said. "I remember him putting his body on the line. I'm sure when I throw an interception or fumble the football, part of being a football player is whatever instinct takes over where you say, 'OK, I've got to at least attempt to tackle the guy. I've made a mistake, I'd better make sure it doesn't compound into a return for a touchdown.' So you don't want quarterbacks tackling, but you've got to at least try."

What his coaches, teammates and the people of Indianapolis have quickly grown to love about Luck is that he's not only an excellent player, but also so earnestly focused on continuing to improve.

He's not about flash. His gift to himself after signing a $22-million contract was to splurge on a high-end pingpong table.

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