Andrew Luck has two challenges this year: To win the Heisman Trophy and to become the best Stanford quarterback ever. The second one is more difficult.
I’ve watched Stanford quarterbacks since John Brodie, who was undervalued during both his college and pro career because it wasn’t until the end of his 49ers career that he had both a good coach and a good surrounding cast. Nonetheless, though Brodie was very good, he wasn’t as athletic as Luck. Nobody ever would have thought of having Brodie trying to catch a pass downfield.
Luck’s athleticism sets him apart from most quarterbacks, but he isn’t as athletic as John Elway.
Elway had it all physically when he came to Stanford, a very strong and accurate arm and running ability. He put almost too much faith in his legs because, trying to buy time, he would sometimes be caught for huge losses. But he also made some very big plays. Against USC, while Elway was running around in the backfield, Ronnie Lott let Ken Margerum get behind him, confident he could catch up to any ball thrown. With another quarterback, yes, but Elway launched a laser that Margerum caught for a touchdown.
But that game also symbolized Elway’s Stanford career because USC won the game easily. Stanford was below .500 overall in Elway’s three years as a starter, mostly because they were coached by Paul Wiggin. After Elway left, Stanford went 1-10 and Wiggin was fired.
Luck has already surpassed Elway in collegiate success, having quarterbacked a team that went 11-1 last season and won the Orange Bowl. His target this year is Jim Plunkett, who won the Heisman Trophy, quarterbacked Stanford to a Rose Bowl win and was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Quite a trifecta.
Barring a serious injury — Stanford coach David Shaw has ruled out any more plays with Luck as a receiver — Luck seems destined to duplicate the Plunkett trifecta.
Hopefully, he doesn’t duplicate Plunkett’s early pro career. Drafted by the New England Patriots, who had a very porous offensive line, Plunkett took a terrible beating. He had a decent season with the 49ers in 1976 but was released the next year by Joe Thomas.
He was picked up by the Raiders, sat on the bench for two seasons, then stepped in and had a nice second career, leading the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins and leaving everybody to wonder how much he could have accomplished earlier with a better team.
Quarterbacks taken with the first pick often suffer similar problems, but Luck could catch a break this year. The Indianapolis Colts are 0-4 — because Peyton Manning is sidelined. It’s possible the Colts would be in a position to draft Luck, who could sit for a couple of years when Manning returns, and then have a good team around him when he does start.
Nobody will ever match Elway’s athleticism, but Plunkett was much more productive at Stanford. But if Luck wins the Heisman, is the No. 1 draft pick and quarterbacks Stanford to another major bowl win, it’s going to be hard to deny that he’s Stanford’s best quarterback ever.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.