For many NFL fans, only losses will bring Luck
AP Sports Writer
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) – The last couple of weeks have been brutal for Nick Wright and his followers. The lifelong Kansas City Chiefs fan and current radio host has watched, much to his dismay, as his beloved NFL team did the last thing he wanted them to do.
The Chiefs actually won – twice.
“We were on the cusp and about to go full throttle with something great,” said Wright, who hosts an afternoon drive-time show on 610-KCSP. “They really took the wind out of everything.”
While his logic might seem backward, Wright is not alone in his feelings. For fans in places where the playoffs will likely never come this season, about the only thing left to cheer for is more failure.
Waiting at the end of the most miserable year in pro football is Andrew Luck, the Heisman Trophy favorite from Stanford who turned down a chance to be the NFL draft’s No. 1 pick to return for one more season. He is considered almost unanimously by scouts as the best quarterback prospect in years, drawing comparisons to Peyton Manning and even John Elway out of college, exceeding both with hype in the Internet age.
Beleaguered fans, dreaming of a franchise-changing quarterback, have even come up with a slogan: “Suck for Luck.”
“He is so far ahead of every quarterback coming out of college in more than a decade and it’s not even close,” NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt said. “He can take a team to the Super Bowl. Looking at his makeup, there’s nothing not to like.”
What makes Luck such a can’t miss? Start with the perfect pedigree for the position.
He’s the son of former NFL quarterback and current West Virginia athletic director, Oliver Luck. He has all the physical tools: a strong arm, fleet footwork and precision passing. His work ethic has drawn praise and so have his smarts.
Luck earned valedictorian honors at his Houston high school and will have an architecture degree from Stanford this spring. He matured under the tutelage of former Stanford coach and NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh and has been running a pro-style system with all the same vocabulary of NFL offenses for three years.
“I would venture to say he’s doing as much, if not more, than most NFL quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage,” said current Cardinal coach David Shaw, the former offensive coordinator.
Luck has thrown for 1,719 yards with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions this season – with two of those turnovers coming on tipped balls by his receiver – to lead No. 7 Stanford (6-0) to the nation’s longest winning streak at 14 games entering Saturday’s matchup against No. 22 Washington (5-1).
Luck has been given complete autonomy calling plays when the offense runs a no-huddle system, responsibilities almost unheard of for a college quarterback, and rare even in the pros. Shaw has run out of words to describe what Luck is doing on the field, so he points his index fingers apart on the table to explain what he sees on film.
“It’s just mathematically funny. You would say there’s no way he gets the ball from here to there before this guy can go from here to there,” Shaw said, moving his hands together to show the defense closing. “It’s just phenomenal. There’s about three of those in each game you can’t coach. He’s one of the few guys on the planet that can do it.”
Nothing might say more about Luck’s talent than the fact some fans want their teams to tank for him.
Chris Joseph, who runs a popular blog called FinsNation, didn’t know how to act Monday night when Miami played the rival Jets. There is not a more hated team for most Dolphins fans than the Jets, although a victory would’ve meant taking a step back in the race for the No. 1 pick.
The only relief came at the end of the night when the Dolphins remained winless.
“I came to the realization that we stink. So if we’re going to stink, let’s really, really stink. Let’s be horrible,” Joseph said. “It feels blasphemous. But I have to keep reminding myself to think big picture. One bad season could be bring 10 or 12 great ones.”
Fans who want teams to lose won’t find any public support from the franchise’s they love.
Contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed, and tanking serves no purpose for players who want jobs next season. And along with coaches, they’re competitors, and the mere suggestion of intentionally losing is offensive.
“Those players go out there every single week and put themselves at risk,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. “That part of it, that angers me a little.”
Added Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers: “That really (ticks) me off. We’re going to try to win no matter what.”
The Stanford quarterback agrees.
He has been aware of the “Suck for Luck” campaign by NFL fans that has spread on radio, social networks and message boards for months. Since he was first asked at Bay Area media day on Aug. 1, Luck hasn’t wavered on his opinion about the campaign.
“That seems a little stupid to me,” he said.
The most recent draft with such a high-caliber quarterback came in 1998.
That’s when Manning left Tennessee and Washington State’s Ryan Leaf entered the draft. Manning, who went first overall to Indianapolis, returned for his senior season – similar to Luck – and the hoopla over his talents swelled.
“We didn’t pay a lot of attention to it because there was so much going on that year,” said Manning’s father, Archie, also a former NFL quarterback. “The real excitement was Peyton’s senior season and traveling to games. It wasn’t distracting to us or Peyton because once he decided to go back, it’s his senior year. So we really tried to stay away from all of that.”
Meanwhile, on the NFL side, one loss can alter a franchise forever.
On the final week of the regular season in 1988, Dallas and Green Bay were tied for the worst record. The Packers beat Arizona in the finale and the Cowboys lost to Philadelphia and finished 3-13. Dallas took quarterback Troy Aikman and started a dynasty with three Super Bowl victories in the 1990s.
“We weren’t trying to lose at all, far from it. But when the season was over and we had the top pick, it was hard to complain,” said Brandt, a former vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys. “So it’s easy to see why people have those hopes.”
Six weeks into the regular season, the front-runners for the top pick have begun to emerge. Indianapolis (0-6), Miami (0-5) and St. Louis (0-5) are still winless. Five other teams only have one victory, and four others such as Kansas City (2-3) have two.
The Rams figure to rebound from a horrible start playing in the NFC West, and 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford is considered a rising star in St. Louis. The Colts and Dolphins are the clear favorites, with both losing their starting quarterbacks to injuries and difficult schedules ahead.
While Manning is considered one of the league’s best QBs, he’ll be 36 years old and coming off major neck surgery next year. Miami has been begging for a stable quarterback since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season, and Chad Henne is the latest not to pan out.
A half-dozen other teams are still in the mix, including Denver (1-4), which is waiting to see if former Florida star Tim Tebow can be a successful NFL quarterback. Of course, Luck still has another year of eligibility remaining. And while he has insisted he won’t be back for a fifth season, he always could.
For long-suffering fans of losing teams, they’d rather not leave anything to chance.
“No championship is coming this season,” Wright said, “So if you’re rooting for losses, you’re going to have more happy Sundays than sad ones.”
AP Sports Writers Mike Marot in Indianapolis, Steven Wine in Miami, Arnie Stapleton in Denver and Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this story
Follow Antonio Gonzalez on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP