Spander: Luck to take stage at Notre Dame

Andrew Luck understands. Not only the subject matter of his architectural design major — that would be expected of someone from Stanford.

He understands what it means to play a football game at Notre Dame, which he will do Saturday.

“It’s a special place,” said Luck. He was there as redshirt two years ago.

“Touchdown Jesus,” he said of the mosaic on the Hesburgh Library which faces the field. “All that. It’s an honor to go play in the stadium with so much history.”

A stadium that’s a stage. A stadium around which bronze statues of coaches Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz — Lou Holtz? — wake up the echoes.

A stadium where there have been 214 consecutive sellouts.

A stadium where the Four Horsemen rode, if not outlined against blue-gray October sky.

Luck isn’t much for self-promotion. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh called him “the anti-celebrity quarterback,” in a big spread in the New York Times a month ago.

What Luck needs is a big game against Notre Dame, only to prove the stories of his skill and potential simply aren’t West Coast myth, like tales of Bigfoot.

Twenty years ago, Stanford’s Tommy Vardell had four leaps into the end zone at Notre Dame and instantly became “Touchdown Tommy.” The spring of 1992 he also became a first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, then coached by one Bill Belichick.

There’s often skepticism in the Midwest and East about kids out in California, as if the numbers produced are some mystical Silicon Valley creation, just another app to be downloaded into an iPhone.

Luck is third in the country in passing efficiency. What does that mean? Not as much as a big afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium would.

“Notre Dame,” said Luck of the Irish, “is very disciplined on defense. They’re not going to get caught sleeping.”

Last weekend against Wake Forest, Luck, a third-year sophomore, wasn’t going to get caught. In addition to his four touchdown passes, he also ran 52 yards for a score.

“There were five wide receivers going out, including a running back,” Luck said almost apologetically. “That left no one to account for the quarterback if I ran. So I started running. I started to cut back trying to figure out where and when I was going to slide. So I kept running, and with good blocking downfield by the guys, I ended up in the endzone.”

Harbaugh, the coach, who as a quarterback for Michigan in 1986 came out with a victory, seems not particularly impressed by the tradition and events at Notre Dame.

“Their program is first class in all respects,” said Harbaugh. “Everybody’s proud of their football stadium. Our objective is to win the game.”

That would elevate Stanford to 4-0. That might impress any doubters.

“We set a standard for ourselves on offense this year,” said Luck. “You saw glimpses last year. We wanted to improve on that.”

This is the weekend to verify that improvement. The stadium where the ghosts of legends hover, is location.

“No spotlight,” it says in the school’s media guide, “is brighter than at Notre Dame.”

A special place. A special player. A special opportunity.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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