INDIANAPOLIS — Who is Andrew Luck?
"I remember Andrew's rookie year last season, second practice, and the defense was just blitzing the hell out of him," Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said. "The defense brought all these exotic blitzes. I think Andrew threw some picks and was sacked a bunch. We were walking off the field, and Andrew looked at me and said, 'Coach, what the hell just happened?'
"The next day, the defense blitzes again. Different kinds of blitzes, but a lot of them. The passes were flying out. Bing, bing, bing. I think he had one incompletion. That was Andrew in a nutshell. You get to him once. You don't get to him a second time."
"We played Jacksonville [this year] and had a sluggish first half," remembered offensive lineman and close friend Anthony Castonzo. "We were in the locker room, and Andrew was pacing up and down the room talking to all the players, saying, 'Keep working, keep working, keep working!' I grabbed him and said, 'Andrew, do you think we're going to stop working?' He smiled, and we laughed.
"Here we were at halftime of this tough game, and we were laughing like a bunch of kids. That's one of the many great things about him. He's so smart and tough, but he makes football fun again. He has this way of taking us back to our childhood when we played football because we loved it. In the second half of that game, we blew them out."
Who is Andrew Luck?
Luck addressed the entire team recently. "The thing I like most about football, is it's a meritocracy," Luck told the players. There was a long silence in the room. Then Luck spent the next several minutes explaining what a meritocracy was.
"He explained it well," said Luck's backup, Matt Hasselbeck. "If you didn't know what a meritocracy was, you did then."
Luck rarely goes out, but when he does, he hangs at a few restaurants and bars in downtown Indianapolis, where he lives. He rarely strays far from that area. "He goes into these bars, and it's very low-key," says Hasselbeck. "When he goes to these places, he's not the Colts quarterback. He's Norm from Cheers."
"When we hang out, we hang at his house and play board games," Castonzo said.
"If I had to guess what would be one of Andrew's ideal nights out," said Hasselbeck, "it would be hanging with a small group of friends and playing Settlers of Catan."
That would be the board game Settlers of Catan.
Amazon describes the game this way: "The board consists of 19 terrain hexes surrounded by the ocean. Each type of terrain produces a different type of resource: brick, wool, ore, grain or lumber. There's also a desert hex that produces no resources. As the game progresses, players use resources to build roads along the edges of these hexes and settlements or cities on the intersections where three hexes meet. Each player begins the game with two settlements and two roads."
Brett Favre probably never played Settlers of Catan.
Who is Andrew Luck?
We know who Luck was last year and when he played at Stanford, but he's changed rapidly in his short time in the NFL, so the question becomes "who is he now?" The answer is like Luck: complex. He isn't just a dork. He isn't just an intellectual. He's not just tough or athletic or a leader. Luck is all of these things. He is, in fact, one of the most unique personalities in all of sports.
Luck is important to examine now because he has emerged as the best of the young quarterbacking guns. He has passed fellow young throwers Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. This is no longer speculation. This is fact.
Luck has victories this season against three of the NFL's best—San Francisco, Seattle and Denver—and in those games has 616 passing yards, five passing touchdowns, zero interceptions, 62 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. No quarterback going is playing better in bigger moments.
It is the total package of Luck, that uniqueness and calmness, which allowed him to step into the cleats of Peyton Manning, as tough an act to follow as there ever was. Then, Luck beat Manning, prompting the original question: Just who exactly is this man?
"I laugh all the time," said cornerback Darius Butler, "because he still rocks the flip phone."
"I'm here [at the practice facility] at 6:45 in the morning," said linebacker Jerrell Freeman. "I walk in, and his bag is already there." Freeman points to Luck's locker across the room. He added, "No one beats him in here."
"The team will start stretching for practice at 1:40," Hasselbeck said. "The quarterbacks go out at 1:15. Andrew wants us to beat everyone else out there. It's a competitive thing."
"I played with Tom Brady," Butler said. "He has the same kind of presence as Tom. He commands that kind of respect in the locker room, and this is only his second year."
"I think my favorite Andrew Luck story is the one that hasn't been written yet," linebacker Pat Angerer said. "His future is so big. He's just beginning to show us what he's capable of."
"Condoleezza Rice came to practice one day," Hasselbeck said. "Andrew was absolutely giddy. They talked about leadership."
"The laugh he has is something else," Christensen said. "He's so smart, and he tells these jokes that sometimes you can't tell if he's serious or not. Then you hear that laugh, and you know he's joking."
"He loves northern Indian food," said Hasselbeck, "not southern Indian food. There's a difference."
"Andrew is a soccer nut," Castonzo said.
"Books and soccer," Christensen said. "Two of his favorite things."
"When we play on the road, I'll go to dinner with him," Hasselbeck said, "and we'll get a car service and sometimes the driver will be a huge soccer fan. The conversation will invariably go to soccer. So you'll have this kid from Stanford and a guy from Egypt talking soccer. I don't know how he knows all the rosters."
One of the common themes in speaking to Colts personnel about Luck is the quarterback's physical and mental toughness. It is discussed constantly. Everyone mentions it. They say his mental toughness is the reason Luck has engineered nine game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in just 23 games as a professional.
"Training camp this summer, we were getting a little sluggish in practice, so Reggie [Wayne] asked the coaches to leave the room, and Reggie spoke to the team," running back Donald Brown said. "Reggie talked, and then Andrew stood up. You could hear a pin drop. He got the attention of the entire team. I saw it as almost his coming-of-age moment."
"His first year, we're playing Green Bay," Christensen said. "On a key third down, he shrugs off Clay Matthews, who came in on a blitz, and hit Reggie Wayne."
It was a 3rd-and-12 at the Packers' 47, and the play went for 15 yards. That drive turned out to be the game-winner.
"I don’t know how much [Luck] can bench press, but…it happened," Matthews said at the time, via ESPN Wisconsin. "It seems to be a theme amongst pass-rushers with him. I guess I have to get back in the gym, work out a little harder. [He's a] big kid, elusive, slippery. Unfortunately, there wasn't much pressure in his face to get him to get back on his heels, but I just didn't get him down. That's ultimately what it boils down to. Unfortunately that was a big play in the drive."
"We were playing Oakland this year," Christensen said. "One of the linebackers came in on a twist and stuck Andrew right in the chest. He shook it off, kept going. The part a lot of people don't truly understand is that he's so physically strong."
So, back to the question: Who is Andrew Luck?
Andrew Luck is terrible talking about Andrew Luck. He is always respectful, but there is a force field that prevents the media from getting close. There are moments, however, when Luck lowers his shields. One comes as we are walking down a long, carpeted hallway at the team's practice facility.
He is wearing a dark T-shirt, white hat, black sweatpants and no shoes or socks. Luck is asked about his work ethic, which is documented and renowned. His explanation of its origins is typical Luck. It's brilliant.
"When I grew up, my father taught us the value of hard work. He wanted us to enjoy ourselves, but he also wanted to know what it took to be successful. He coached a lot of our sports teams growing up. We weren't very good, but we learned about hard work and enjoying life and your teammates.
"I took these lessons to high school, college and then here [the NFL]. I love this team and what we're doing, but I also realize we haven't done anything yet. You have to prove yourself every weekend.
"Biggest lesson I learned my first year in the NFL is no one gives a crap about what you did last week. This league is about what have you done for me now. That's the NFL. It's also our culture. So you keep working hard because that's the biggest truth about football."
And with that, Luck said goodbye, then walked away, bare feet and all.
That, and many other things, many great things, finally answer the question. We know who Luck is.
He's the future.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.