Kravitz: Luck is no Manning, and that’s just fine

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Bob Kravitz

The following thoughts did not cross Andrew Luck's mind the moment he figured out he would be drafted by the Colts and be replacing a guy named Peyton Manning:

"Holy smokes, I'm stepping into some of the biggest shoes ever worn in the history of the game. How will I ever measure up to a guy who is not only one of the top three to five quarterbacks ever, but is sports' preeminent pitchman, a guy who once hosted 'Saturday Night Live' and is one of the most charitable icons in the history of the game? How can I ever measure up to Peyton Manning?"

Intellectually, Luck knew he'd be attempting to replace a legend and a man who is the featured face on Indy's athletic Mount Rushmore. But personally and emotionally, he was unfazed, unmoved. It was a big story for fans and the media, and still is, especially in the days leading up to the Colts' season opener at Denver. For Luck, though, it was only a story when he was asked about it, which was the case virtually every time he faced the scribbling masses throughout the early portion of his rookie year.

“To be honest, from day one hasn't been an issue,'' Luck told WTHR.com. “It wasn't like, 'Oh, I've got to replace a legend, one of the greatest of all time.' I realize, because my dad played in the NFL and is in the sports business, you realize that in sports, people come and go. We're all going to be replaced. And guys in the locker room let me know I didn't need to be anybody but myself.

“When you walk into a locker room, teammates can make it hard or easy, and our guys made it easy. 'Be your own person. Do what you want.' I remember Dwight [Freeney] called me over and said, 'Be yourself, man. Work hard and let's go.'…I just happened to be the guy who was picked and at some point someone will replace me. So why take time worrying, 'Oh, I've got to replace him or him?' It's the way it is.''

He smiled.

“And we were successful, so that helped.''

Inside the team's facility, Colts staffers talked at length about the hurdles Luck might have to surmount as Manning's replacement, how Luck would be like Steve Young replacing Joe Montana. Turned out, their concerns were largely unfounded. Luck has turned out to be the perfect replacement; a young man perfectly comfortable in his own skin, a self-styled “boring guy.''

“I don't think from day one he was overwhelmed with [replacing Manning] or even thought of that,'' Coach Pagano said. “I think everyone else was. We all talked about it, everybody in this [media] room wrote about it, but I think it went right over his head. Because he was so focused on the job and the task at hand. And he's continued to do that where he doesn't get distracted by anything. We all understand the enormity of what went down in 2012 and how the plate tectonics shifted. It was huge. The whole landscape changed. But I think the guy has such great focus that he never paid any attention to it and understood he had a job to do.''

By now, most locals seem to be on board with the epic decision to transition from Manning to Luck. The Colts quarterback has thrown for more yards in his first two years than anybody in NFL history. The Colts have won 11 games each of his first two seasons and have twice made the playoffs.

No, he is not Manning. He's not a noted advertising pitchman, at least not yet. He's not a laugh a minute, although he has a wicked and understated sense of humor. But he's never tried to be Manning, although you may have to check YouTube for Luck's role in one of the all-time worst music videos called “Cheeseburger in a Coconut.''

When I told him I'd seen his VMA-worthy performance, he laughed.

“Something different, huh?'' he said. “Didn't expect it, huh?''

Nope, didn't expect that. It's an awful, cheesy video. But it shows how Luck is willing to laugh at himself.

In this, his third year, Luck has become far more comfortable in his role as this team's franchise player. It's especially apparent to those of us who follow the Colts on a semi-daily basis. His first year or so, he was guarded in his responses, purposefully bland. But now, he's opening up, sharing laughs, and is expansive when he's intrigued by a question.

“I think I've gotten more comfortable and now I have relationships with people,'' he said. “As a rookie, you're on guard. You don't understand the landscape, and you get it beat in your brain, not by the Colts PR, that the media is out to screw you. 'Don't give them anything.' So you do want to protect yourself. As you get older, you start to realize that the media is that step between you and the fans.''

When he was at Stanford, fame came slowly and steadily, rising to a crescendo during his Heisman candidacy. He was also on a campus where football players aren't necessarily the big men on campus. The place is crawling with high achievers in all walks of life, and athletes aren't placed on the kind of pedestal they ascend at other sports-crazy schools.

Then he came to Indianapolis and …

Face of the franchise. The guy who replaced Peyton Manning. The klieg lights were bright.

“I have an evolving philosophy about fame,'' he said. “I used to run from attention. My personality is one that doesn't like to be in the spotlight. But I think in the football word, I've gotten a lot better at it and realize it's part of the position. As far as the outside world, I still get uncomfortable if I get caught in certain situations, like if I'm stuck at an airport at the gate. Things can get uncomfortable for me sometimes. But I'll say this: The people of Indianapolis have been great about that.''

He's not Peyton Manning, but he's Andrew Luck, and that's more than good enough.