Andrew Luck: The Casual, Confident, Comfortable New Face of the NFL

Lars AndersonSenior WriterSeptember 9, 2015

B/R via Getty Images

Here he comes, striding through the Colts football facility on the outskirts of Indianapolis, his black cleats clacking on the concrete floor, his brown eyes bright with curiosity.

The eyes dart left and right, up and down, sizing up the scene inside the locker room. These may be the most expressive eyes in the NFL—it's as if they are always seeing things for the first time, glowing like twin full moons—and now they are locked on what's directly in front of him: a group of pen-wielding reporters.

Andrew Luck approaches. But before he can talk, he asks for a moment. He needs to liberate his feet. "My cleats are killing me," he said. "I'm a man of comfort. You know, you always need to be comfortable." A smile creases his face as the cleats slide off.

You always need to be comfortable. If Luck had a life motto, this would be it. How else would one explain the aesthetically challenging neckbeard he wore all of last season because he doesn't like to shave (but he did trim this spring at the insistence of his mom)?

Or why he shared a Honda Accord at Stanford with his younger sister, Mary Ellen, because he didn't want to be burdened with the responsibility of solo ownership? Or why he didn't have cable television on "The Farm" for his first two-and-a-half years on campus because he didn't want to take on the hassle of calling the cable company? Or why he kept using his antiquated flip phone—the one he knew so well—even after he collected a $14.5 million signing bonus as a rookie?

Matt Hasselbeck
Matt HasselbeckJohn David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

"Andrew is not your normal NFL quarterback, to put it mildly," said Matt Hasselbeck, the Colts' backup quarterback. "Start with the neckbeard. The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] should have been called in on that. But it just shows you he doesn't really care about his looks and that he's incredibly comfortable in his own skin. I'm telling you, he just does his own thing. Like, how many NFL quarterbacks will go on 25-mile bike rides with their dads? Andrew does."

Hasselbeck, the 17-year veteran, has hit his target in stride: There is indeed no one in the NFL like the 25-year-old Luck, who finished last season first in touchdown passes (40), third in yards passing (4,761) and seventh in total quarterback rating (96.5).

Across the league, it's taken as an article of faith that Luck will one day soon surpass Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to become the game's marquee quarterback—perhaps as early as February in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California.

"There is nothing Andrew can't do on the football field," said one longtime NFL scout. "He can make every throw, especially the finesse passes. He's as accurate as anyone. He can buy time with his feet and always keeps his eyes downfield. He's entering his fourth year now, which means he's just scratching his prime. If he doesn't get hurt, he'll be scary good this year. I mean, he'll be the best in the game."

To understand Luck's unique approach to life—and why he's poised to become the new face of America's most popular sport—you need to visit the downtown Indianapolis office of the NCAA's executive vice president of regulatory affairs. The silver-haired, professorial man behind the desk holds the clues to figuring out Andrew Luck.

This man knows him well: Andrew is his son.


Andrew's father, Oliver Luck.
Andrew's father, Oliver Luck.Associated Press

They cruised through Europe, lighting a blue streak across the continent. On many weekends, the family loaded into their car and drove from their home in Frankfurt on the Autobahn to places such as Berlin, Paris and London. In the back seat, the little boy with those expressive eyes took it all in; the ancient buildings especially fired his imagination.

Oliver Luck moved his family—wife Kathy and one-year-old Andrew—to Germany in December 1990. Three more children—Mary Ellen, Emily and Addison—would be born in Europe. A former quarterback at West Virginia who set school records for touchdowns and completions, Luck had been named the general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy of the fledgling European-based World League of American Football. He eventually became the president of the league, which was renamed NFL Europe in 1998 and served as a minor league for the NFL.

Oliver Luck has an agile mind; he spurned offers from Harvard and Yale to attend West Virginia, where he won the Louis D. Meisel Award, given to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average as a senior. He hoped Europe, where his family would live for a decade, would be a giant classroom for Andrew.

Oliver rarely talked football with his oldest child, who was more interested in playing soccer and basketball with his European buddies. But then Andrew found a VHS tape of a Houston Oilers-San Diego Chargers game from 1985. There on the grainy video, with his nose pressed close to the glow of the television screen, eight-year-old Andrew saw his dad, then the starter for the Oilers, complete 24 of 42 passes for 286 yards and one touchdown in Houston's 37-35 win. Oliver Luck had outplayed future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts.

"Andrew must have watched that one game 1,000 times," Oliver said.

Some Sundays, father and son stayed up deep into the night to watch NFL games that aired over the Armed Forces Network. Oliver showed Andrew things such as how Dan Marino held the ball next to his ear so he could release it quickly, but Oliver mostly answered his son's questions, never wanting Andrew to feel forced to follow the game.

But slowly, Andrew became increasingly intrigued by the sport. He and his dad sat together into the small hours of one Monday morning in January 1998 watching Super Bowl 32; Andrew was mesmerized by John Elway "doing the whirlybird"—his description of Elway's memorable dive for a first down against the Green Bay Packers.

Oliver took Andrew to several NFL Europe games, where Andrew saw Amsterdam Admirals quarterback Kurt Warner and his pinpoint passing lead the league in yards and touchdowns in 1998. The feathery touch Warner displayed in stadiums from Barcelona to London would be one of Andrew's most vivid memories of the league. Another sweet memory: playing games of catch with his dad in their yard in Frankfurt—perhaps the most red-white-and-blue experience of his early childhood.

Eventually, Andrew pressed his father about his own NFL career, and Oliver told him about life as a Houston Oiler, where he backed up a veteran named Archie Manning in 1982 and '83.

The low man on the quarterback totem pole in Houston, Oliver was conscripted into a most unusual duty: babysitting. Manning, who commuted on Southwest Airlines three or four times a week to Houston from his home in New Orleans, would land at the airport and be greeted by Oliver. Archie would then hand off his two oldest boys to his personal gofer of a backup.

Archie would head to the football facility, while Oliver chaperoned Cooper and Peyton Manning around town, stuffing them into his Mazda RX-7 and taking them to get ice cream, grab a hamburger or play miniature golf. The car was only a two-seater, so it was usually the younger Manning—six-year-old Peyton—who crouched in the hatchback.

Oliver, the father of the 2015 preseason MVP favorite, never could have fathomed he was toting around the child who would one day become the Colts' starting quarterback—and the man his own unborn son would replace as the starter in 2012.

"That was the beginning of a longstanding relationship between the Lucks and the Mannings," Oliver said. "It's gotten interesting over the years, but we've always had a wonderful friendship."

Realizing he was never going to be a top-flight NFL starter, Oliver took law school classes at night and in the offseason from the University of Texas while playing for the Oilers. He earned his law degree, cum laude, in '87. His wife, Kathy, who already held a master's degree in social work, also picked up her Juris Doctor from the University of Texas.

Oliver played for Houston from 1982-86. He walked away from the NFL after five seasons—just long enough to qualify for his NFL pension—because there were so many other fruits in life to taste. It is a lesson he always emphasized to Andrew.


The boy loved architecture. Historic buildings held his eyes like nothing else in Europe, and he was always asking his father how things were built. In his childhood room in Frankfurt, he was the Gustave Eiffel of Lego construction.

Andrew flourished on the soccer field and basketball court. These two sports honed Andrew's hand-eye-foot coordination, his ability to discern passing angles and his peripheral vision. As Andrew matured and the seasons on the pitch and the court passed—for the record, he usually communicated with his teammates in German—he began to view both sports like chess matches; the movements of each player needed to be choreographed with the others because the team would flounder if one player made a misstep.

He developed, as basketball great Bill Bradley once described, a sense of where you are. "Those sports help you understand how people relate to each other in space," said Andrew.

"Those were the two best sports Andrew could play to get him ready to be a quarterback because they emphasize team movement and passing angles," said Oliver. "Overall, I think the impact of living in Europe—where Andrew was exposed to different languages, different cultures—is that it made him a little more inquisitive about the world. He realized that the world was big and you should ask questions, be open-minded and tolerant."

When the Lucks returned to the United States in 2001—Oliver was named the CEO of the Houston Sports Authority, which builds stadiums—one of Andrew's first questions wasn't whether he could play football in Texas or if he could try a juicy longhorn steak. Rather, he asked his father, "Why aren't there any trains in the United States?"

Even then, at age 11, Andrew was asking the most important question a quarterback can: Why?


Andrew Luck on graduation day at Stanford.
Andrew Luck on graduation day at Stanford.Associated Press

He is a voracious reader of books; it is as if written words speak secrets to him. No subject is off-limits: religion, politics, biographies, history. He even once revealed to Colts teammates that he'd been reading a narrative on the wild and riveting history of…concrete.

Did you guys know the Roman Colosseum was built mostly of concrete? And the Hoover Dam as well? Yes, this is a young man committed to unraveling as many yarns of life's complexities as possible.

At Stratford High in Houston, Luck was usually in one of two places: the library or the football field.

Shortly after returning to the United States, Luck began doing what virtually all 12-year-old boys do in the Lone Star State: He played Pop Warner football. For two seasons, Oliver was his coach. The boy wanted to play quarterback, mostly because that was the position he saw his old man master on that VHS tape.

Andrew was a natural, as if everything his father knew about the game had been transferred to him via genetic code. Talking about why his son is successful at football, Oliver cited the book Freakonomics, in which authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt argue the No. 1 trait that determines whether a child will become a professional baseball player is not size, speed or education; it is simply if his father was a professional baseball player.

At Stratford High, Andrew threw for 7,139 yards and 53 touchdowns. He was, according to Rivals.com, the nation's fourth-ranked pro-style quarterback in 2008. He had an uncanny touch on his throws, like Kurt Warner lighting up the old stadiums in Europe.

The one knock on Luck was he didn't possess elite arm strength, but what recruiting analysts didn't know—because Andrew didn't tell them—was he rarely unleashed his fastball because he was afraid it would be too hard for his receivers to catch.

Luck was the co-valedictorian of his class, and he dreamed of building stadiums, becoming the Frank Lloyd Wright of public arenas. The venues he saw in his youth throughout Europe—iconic structures such as Wembley Stadium in London and Rheinstadion in Dusseldorf—remained vivid in his mind. "I was infatuated with stadiums," Andrew said.

Nick Saban, Bob Stoops and virtually every big-name coach in the nation traveled to Stratford High to recruit Andrew, but he wanted to attend a school that had as much heritage in academics as athletics. By his junior year, he had narrowed his list of schools to five: Stanford, Purdue, Northwestern, Virginia and Rice.

Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, a former quarterback, was smitten with Luck from the first time he met him. Aside from Luck's prototypical size and 4.6 40 speed, what impressed Harbaugh the most were the testimonials from his teammates, who were universal in their admiration for the quarterback.

"Andrew is just so sharp mentally, so quick-minded," said Harbaugh back in January 2011. "And then just the easy personality to be around. He's like a dolphin; you know, it's really smart, he's always having fun and he's laughing and joking. ... He's just so technically sound, so good with his mechanics, so great with his eye discipline." 

Associated Press

Andrew majored in architectural design at Stanford. In the summer of 2009, he was a corporate sales intern with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer. The following spring, for one class, he helped design a disaster-relief shelter and community for a site outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake shattered the country.

From afar, NFL personnel began to wonder: Is Andrew Luck too good to be true?

"The only thing better than his on-the-field performance at Stanford was how he was off the field," said one NFC scout. "He was an absolute slam-dunk No. 1 overall pick if he'd come out after his junior year."

But Luck wanted to earn his degree, so after consulting with a longtime family friend—Peyton Manning, who stayed in school for his senior year at Tennessee—he returned to Stanford. In 2011, Luck's final year on the Farm, the football coaches were so confident in their starting quarterback that they freighted him with more responsibility than most NFL quarterbacks carry: He went to the line of scrimmage with three plays and, depending on which defensive alignment he saw, chose which play to run. That year, Luck led Stanford to an 11-2 record and the No. 7 final Associated Press ranking.

"Andrew's ability to digest information, retain it, then apply it on the football field is probably unmatched," said Bruce Arians, the offensive coordinator and interim head coach for the Colts in 2012, who also coached both Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger as rookies. "Andrew has a photographic memory. Peyton has to work at it—the studying, the long nights. Andrew doesn't because he's so damn smart. You show him something once, and he's got it. Done. It's frightening how much recall he has."

Arians can still remember the first time he knew the Colts had won a once-in-a-decade jackpot by selecting Luck with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft. At Luck's first minicamp that June, he walked into his first huddle. He then called a play using terminology no one else had yet learned.

"Andrew had the playbook memorized on the first day," Arians said. "All the linemen were looking at each other like, 'Who is this guy? What's he talking about?' But he had the play and the terminology all right. It was just none of the other players knew it yet."

Associated Press

Josh Chapman was also hypnotized by Luck at that initial minicamp. A nose tackle out of Alabama, Chapman had been selected 135 players (No. 136 overall in the 2012 draft, in the fifth round) after Luck. In the locker room, Luck approached. After shaking hands, Luck peppered his draft mate with questions that had nothing to do with football: What's it like to live in Alabama? Is it fun playing in the SEC? What's Nick Saban like? What do you like to do for fun?

"Andrew won me over right then and there," Chapman said. "He's like that with everyone in this locker room. The dude is just friendly, down-to-earth, and wants to get to know you and what you're all about. I can honestly say that there isn't one person on this team that would have a bad thing to say about Andrew because probably the only thing he does better than play quarterback is just be a nice human being."

"Andrew is humble to a fault," said Griff Whalen, a wide receiver for the Colts who was one of Luck's roommates at Stanford. "And he's just a happy person. If he was an architect, and I'm pretty sure he'll become one when he's done playing, he'd be the most content architect in the world."

Whalen remembers one of the first times he walked into Lucas Oil Stadium with Luck. The quarterback gazed up into the rafters, and his eyes were shining with awe, as if he was seeing the great Roman Colosseum for the first time. "This is so well done," Luck told his Stanford buddy. "The industrial look is just perfect. Just perfect."


Andrew Luck at June minicamp.
Andrew Luck at June minicamp.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's a blue-sky afternoon in Indianapolis, the first day of minicamp in June, and No. 12 is jogging onto the main practice field at the Colts football complex. An 11-on-11 drill is about to begin.

Luck fires a short completion over the middle to Andre Johnson, his newest wide receiver, who signed with the Colts in the offseason, he said, "because Andrew is the best quarterback in the NFL, and he's going to win a Super Bowl."

Luck flings a thing of beauty to T.Y. Hilton for a 25-yard completion on a deep corner route. He throws a 30-yard dart to wide receiver Donte Moncrief over the middle. He then floats a 45-yard rainbow that lands in the arms of rookie Phillip Dorsett, who sprints into the end zone for a touchdown.

Luck finishes the 30-minute session 17-of-18—the lone incompletion was a drop. Yes, it is a padless practice in June, but the performance by No. 12 is arresting. Owner Jim Irsay, watching from a golf cart, slaps high-fives with his staff as he takes in the action. Nothing in the NFL makes an owner—even one with legal woes—more popular than a franchise quarterback.

And nothing impacts a coach's job security like having an Andrew Luck. When Chuck Pagano walks into the interview room at the team's headquarters after the practice, he is aglow, unable to contain his giddiness. "The quarterback is really good," Pagano said. "He threw great."

Feb 19, 2015;  Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano speaks to the media at the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

There is a genuine, widespread feeling inside the Colts facility that this is their year. Last season, Indianapolis lost to the New England Patriots 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game—aka the Deflategate game—but now the Colts appear more talented. Along with Johnson and first-round draft pick Dorsett, the offense added veteran running back Frank Gore from the San Francisco 49ers and offensive lineman Todd Herremans from the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It's Year 4 for Andrew, and he's chipping away and getting better every game," said Hasselbeck. "He's got this wonderful beginner's mentality about football. He just loves it. At training camp at the end of practice, I'll be dead tired. Then, I'll look over my shoulder, and there's Andrew on the field smiling big and firing 50-yard bombs with a Nerf ball to my kids. His passion fires up this whole locker room. The NFL season is a grind, but when you see your leader acting like a kid and loving every minute of it, it keeps you fresh."

Said Hilton, "I go to Andrew with questions about plays as much as I'll go to the coaches because that's how well he knows our system. In fact, he's never not had the answer to one of my questions. Never. I can't wait to get this season going."


Associated Press

He is walking through the practice facility, rushing to a meeting. Luck has just riffed in the locker room to reporters about how he needs to cut down on his turnovers in 2015—he had 16 interceptions last year, while Tom Brady had only nine—and how he needs to understand that throwing the ball away is never a bad play.

Now, Luck is hurrying down a hallway. He rarely discusses personal issues with reporters, but as he walks, he does say how happy he is that his mom and dad are now living in his town. Oliver Luck moved to Indianapolis last winter to work in the NCAA headquarters, but father and son still abide by a rule that was established years ago: They only talk football if Andrew broaches the subject.

"My dad lets me do my own thing, and that's the way we've always been," Andrew said. "We just kick back and discuss whatever comes up, current events, books we've read, whatever. Football doesn't define either of us."

Andrew then disappeared down the hallway. Shoeless and comfortable, he was silent as he moved.