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Big Shoes to Fill: Colts' Andrew Luck vs. Broncos' Peyton Manning

There is not much more pressure that can be pressed upon a young quarterback than the burden that young Andrew Luck has yoked in his rookie year. After all, teams were shamelessly tanking winnable games in the pursuit of the “most highly-touted college football player ever.”

To hear Kiper and McShay, two draft gurus, gush about Luck and his NFL-ready talent was a rare elevation that caused enough buzz to make his own expectations unavoidable for the young Stanford standout. You’d have to be listening to NPR or watching the Kardashians in order to avoid hearing about him near draft time.

As if all of that anticipation wasn’t enough, Luck was drafted to the Indianapolis Colts. The tenure of future shoo in Hall of Famer Peyton Manning ended with the arrival of neck surgeries and the Cardinal gun-slinger. Manning strapping on the horseshoe meant to Indianapolis what strapping on the same horseshoe meant to Baltimore when Unitas did it.

Since 1998, in an era of incredible quarterback careers (and or an era of terrible defensive backs and offense-friendly rule changes…but that’s another article) no one can mention great quarterbacks without mentioning Peyton Manning. Manning ranks 3rd on the all-time career passing yards list, trailing only the accumulation of years of a pass hungry Dolphins offense headed by Dan Marino, and the never-say-die Brett Favre. If Peyton decides to put in one more year with Denver or elsewhere, he will almost certainly pass Marino, and if he decides to go the way of Ali, Jordan, and Favre and decide that he would like to fool around late in his career he will likely be the all-time leader if he lasts the 19 years that Favre did (yes, 19). Peyton has already passed Marino for passing touchdowns, and has passed Elway and Marino in career wins all-time again only trailing the ageless and shameless Favre. In fact if he stays healthy for a few more seasons, the only record of Favre’s that Manning will never break is career interceptions where he trails Brett Favre by 128.

Needless to say, Luck has big shoes to fill, and will likely be forever compared (perhaps unfairly) to Manning and his predecessor’s success. It reminds me of the Montana-Young switch, where no one was quite comfortable with seeing Montana on a Chiefs jersey, much like Manning on a Broncos jersey, as the new speedy phenom took the field at Candlestick.

So far Luck has exceeded the expectations of the reasonable sports minds, and perhaps fallen short of the Messiah status of some loud mouth sports personalities and crazy Indianapolis fans. In a rookie season where he has led his team to a momentous win streak, the Colts are playoff bound where they may see an old familiar face in Peyton Manning. As it sits right now with the Bengals likely facing the Patriots and the Colts facing a struggling Ravens team, it’s likely that it would take an AFC Championship to see the two play. However, if the Bengals can best Belichick, Brady and the Patriots (cough) and the Colts can beat the Ravens, then the Broncos would host Luck and the Colts 2.0 in the divisional round. Denver wants it, Indy definitely wants it, and above all the Box office, TV stations, and NFL gear hawkers want it.

People are being impatient with Luck in attaching such high expectations to his career so early. In Peyton’s rookie campaign the Colts went 3-13, with Manning tainting his 26 touchdown debut year with 28 interceptions. Luck has had his share of picks this year, but people are forgetting the speed adjustment that rookies must make (though it’s getting much faster at the college level) as at times the entire secondary breaks on the football and is as fast and athletic as the one corner you scouted for in college.

I must admit, the one thing I thought that Luck would lack in a league of grown men versus his college days, was late game heroics. Luck has shown some hiccups in managing games, but has put together a repertoire of late game comebacks and closers that is VERY impressive for a rookie. Seeing that makes the Colts a dangerous team come playoff time. A young team, with nothing to prove, no “this might be my last shot” or “I can’t let what happened last January happen again.”

It all seems a little pipe-dreamy to me though, a first overall pick sent in to bandage a wound left by one of the greatest if not the greatest quarterback of all time. How often is a 1st overall pick quarterback successful in the league?  In the last 30 years a few names come to mind, Elway, Aikman, George, Bledsoe. Aside from Elways those four had good careers but not incredible ones. Then on to Peyton in 98, followed by the biggest counterexample of the era in Tim Couch. Then Vick, and Palmer who often made the highlights, but not the Super Bowl. In 2004, Peyton’s bro Eli was the 1st overall in one of the most talented draft classes of all time, and he has arguably earned his status. In recent years we have seen some great athletes with looming question marks such as Stafford, Bradford, Newton and now Luck.

Busts like Tim Couch or Jamarcus Russell sure seem to point to an inability to handle the transition and the pressure of being a first overall pick quarterback. Conversely, some of the greatest of all time were drafted later than kickers and punters. Montana was selected 82nd overall in the 3rd round, Tom Brady was 199th in the 6th round which is a drafting time for players that often on the practice squad and have to sleep on teammates couches until they earn a spot and a contract.

Irsay, the owner of the Colts and orchestrator of the infamous “pack the team on a truck” move, had his 1st overall quarterback gamble pay off big the first time around, I guess we’ll all get to see how “Luck”-y he is now.


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