Andrew Luck’s Success May Lie With Eli Manning
New Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck might has well have been the hand-picked successor to the legend that is Peyton Manning; even so he will still need to make fans in Indianapolis put Peyton in his proper place—in the past. Not to say that the elder Manning sibling does not deserve to be held in high esteem, but until Luck wins over the fans, Manning will be a demigod. The fans will need closure to move on and in this case that equates to wins—lots of them and meaningful ones at that.
In reality, an NFL fans relationship with a celebrated signal caller is much like their first love. You remember it fondly. You recognize how it shaped you and all your relationships since, but if you’ve never found another love to put the original in its proper perspective, then that first love takes on a fabled role. Bigger and better than it really was and nothing can replace it.
The Miami Dolphins still pine for the glory days of Dan Marino. San Francisco 49ers fans were lucky to have Steve Young follow Joe Montana, but one of the lasting images of Young’s career is of him asking teammates to take the monkey off his back in the waning moments of his Super Bowl victory. And since then, the 49ers have been waiting for the next great QB. Steelers fans couldn’t close the door on Terry Bradshaw until Big Ben brought them a new Lombardi Trophy.
First love and history aside, Andrew Luck’s best bet to successfully follow the Peyton-era is to take a few pointers from Eli Manning. No one knows the cool shadow that Peyton casts better than Eli. No one has endured the comparisons more than Eli. And no one has escaped such a shade quite like Eli.
When the Giants traded for Eli during the 2004 NFL Draft, fans expected to see Peyton 2.0 on the field. Such was not the case, and the younger brother heard it from the fans and media alike. Names like “Eli The Terrible” followed him around as the demands of the New York media were not met. But Eli ignored it. He steeled himself against his detractors and just played football. Two stunning Super Bowl runs later, and Eli is now titled “Elite.” A young Luck would be wise to imitate that kind of resolve and thick-skin, even if the Indianapolis media isn’t quite as harsh as in the Big Apple. Andrew Luck will never be Peyton Manning, and if he tries to be, to appease the fans, he will certainly fail to become Andrew Luck.
Every week, the highlight shows will eagerly await the moment they can put up the side-by-side graphic that compares Luck’s stats to Manning’s. They will show you who had the better day that Sunday. They will compare Luck to Manning in his rookie season. Much like they did to Eli. Much like they did between Rodgers and Favre. The comparisons will not mean anything. They will be fodder for debates and a reason to exalt Peyton even more. Luck will need to avoid ESPN and NFL Network. He will need, instead, to continue to learn and progress. The wins will come. The stats will come.
One thing Luck has on his side is that the 2012 version of the Colts barely resembles Peyton’s Colts. The entire organization from the front office down to the water boy (I don’t know if that’s true, but you get the idea.) has been dismantled and reassembled. Luck has the opportunity to make this his team quickly by showing his leadership skills early in the preseason and by using his weapons effectively.
Andrew Luck will be compared to Peyton Manning for his entire career. The reality of the situation is that only lots of wins and a Lombardi Trophy will ever allow Luck to leave the shade for the sunshine; hopefully he gets the chance to prove that Luck is his own quarterback…only time will tell if he’s a great one, but you’ve got to think he’s studying (if not talking to) Eli Manning.