Early in the morning, in a little place called Joanie’s Cafe in Palo Alto, just outside the Stanford campus, Andrew Luck sits down for breakfast. He’s dressed in a blue T-shirt and shorts, with his trademark sea-captain beard.
If anyone recognizes him, they don’t say anything. The star quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts doesn’t look like a hotshot athlete at first glance. If anything, he looks like a slightly oversize version of any other Stanford student, which is what this school allowed him to be when he studied here. At an SEC or Big 10 school, an athlete of Luck’s stature would have been worshipped like a god everywhere he went. But at Stanford, he got to be just another teenager for a little bit longer.
“The nice thing about going to Stanford was that you didn’t live in a fishbowl,” he says. “You had a lot of license to sort of be a normal dude. You know, there were people that were doing way cooler things than playing quarterback on Saturday. Curing cancer. Stem-cell research. Composing incredible scores.”
He pauses. “It was very good, at 19 years old, not to have to deal with intense fame, per se. Because that can mess with your psyche, if you’re at a really young age.”
That was then. Now Luck is about to turn 26 and is on the verge of being one of the most famous people in America. Like his counterpart in the NBA, LeBron James, Luck was anointed for greatness by scouts at an absurdly early age, yet has managed to remain either on or even slightly ahead of the preposterous expectations set for him by the sports-media hype machine.
In his first three seasons as a pro, he’s smashed franchise passing records and advanced further in the playoffs each year. If form holds true, he’ll reach the Super Bowl this year. And even if he doesn’t win it all this year, it’s the expectation of just about everyone in the sport that sometime in the near future there will be a changing of the guard, and he’ll become the marquee player in an NFL that for 15 years has been dominated by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
But America isn’t the Stanford campus. For better or worse, this country cares a lot more about its sports stars than it does about composers or cancer researchers.
So when the public looks deeply at Luck, what are they going to find?
As great as he is on the field, Luck is maybe more impressive off it. He’s grounded, levelheaded, courteous and self-deprecating. He seems absolutely dedicated to his job, but he also has interests outside of football and perspective about its relative importance. Even while succeeding in one of the most unforgiving high-pressure environments you can find in America, he retains a bit of a philosophical attitude, wondering what it all means and what, if anything, he should do with the platform he’s won.
Luck comes across as a person who could accomplish anything in life, and that’s not restricted to football.
But right now, it’s all about football. Luck thinks about other things, from architecture to politics, but feels it’s not the right time to talk about any of them. “I don’t think it’s my job to talk about politics,” he says. “It’s not my job to opine on things. I understand as an athlete, especially as a quarterback, you have this platform where you can be heard by a lot of people. But I don’t necessarily want to be heard, unless it’s about football.”
Andrew Luck was born into pro sports. His father, Oliver Luck, was a star quarterback at West Virginia University, was drafted in the second round by the Houston Oilers in 1982 and carved out a career as a backup to the legendary Warren Moon.
He retired before Andrew was born, and in the Nineties he worked in Europe as an executive in the now-defunct World League of American Football. Andrew, as a result, spent a lot of his early childhood in Germany, where his father managed teams. At one point, Oliver worked alongside another ex-quarterback, former Washington State great Jack Elway, who had coached at Stanford and had a son, John, who was on his way to the Hall of Fame. Reached by phone, Oliver remembers Jack coming over to his Frankfurt home for a barbecue one evening.