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October 19, 2013

Showdown In Indy: A legend comes back to face his replacement

INDIANAPOLIS — So just how do you follow a legend?

That’s the question Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck gets asked pretty much on a daily basis.

The idea of stepping into the shoes of the guy, Denver’s Peyton Manning, can be awfully daunting.

But Luck, who was the Colts’ — and the National Football League’s No. 1 draft pick — a year ago, has handled his business pretty well ever since assuming the on-field leadership role of the franchise.

Last year during his rookie season, Indianapolis posted an 11-5 record, finished second in the AFC South and earned a wild-card playoff spot before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore. He has led the Colts to a 4-2 mark and first-place in the division this year with wins over NFC powers San Francisco and Seattle.

Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano hasn’t been surprised by the success that Luck has had since entering the NFL and he isn’t surprised by how the former Stanford signal caller has handled the Manning comparisons.

Pagano says that he has never talked to Luck about his illustrious predecessor.

“Never discussed it. Never had to with Andrew. We all know how Andrew is wired and how he is. We never went down that road. Certainly Andrew respects the guy as much as anybody else, understood whose shoes he was filling and all those type of things,” the Colts coach stressed.

“So it wasn’t a matter of having any long, lengthy sit-downs about that. Again, it is what it is. Andrew being Andrew, wired the way that he is, obviously to this point has handled that and handled his first year with flying colors. If he sat there and dwelled on all that, he wouldn’t be able to focus on the task at hand, and that was be the best quarterback that he could be.”

How about comparisons? Luck vs. Manning. It’s inevitable. Especially going into tonight’s nationally-televised game.

“We all know that Andrew is mature beyond his years. He doesn’t play like a second-year quarterback. I don’t feel like it’s necessary for me or for anybody else to even go there. Certainly talk about all the noise surrounding [the game], all the distractions, all the clutter, everything that’s out there,” Pagano said.

“But at the end of the day, it’s the Colts vs. the Broncos. The game is going to be played between the white lines. That’s where his focus will be and that’s where our focus will be is what happens for that three hours-plus between the white lines.”

Luck knew that an opportunity to play against Manning would come sooner or later. He’s ready for the challenge.

“I don’t think the approach changes. I can’t remember my first thought [of what it would be like to face Denver], the schedule came out a while ago. I remember the first time looking at the schedule was seeing who we opened up with. That’s more important when you’re looking at the schedule. It’s another week of preparing for a good football team. Nothing changes on our end,” he said, adding there’s no secret why the franchise has been successful the last year-and-a-half.

“I think, one, I’m surrounded by great guys in here. Obviously, [wide receiver] Reggie Wayne, [outside linebacker] Robert Mathis, great football players. But it’s a great locker room atmosphere. I never viewed it as replacing Peyton. I just viewed it as an opportunity to play quarterback in the NFL. It just so happens one of the greats of all-time was here before me.”

As a player, he appreciates everything Manning has accomplished in the NFL. As a current member of the Colts, he understands what he did for the franchise and the city of Indianapolis.

“He is a great role model for guys my age growing up, younger players, just how to play the position, how to handle yourself on and off the field. I’ve always had the highest respect of him,” Luck said.

“My dad [former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck] backed Archie [Manning] up my dad’s rookie year [with the Houston Oilers]. We always really enjoyed watching all the Mannings play. I definitely hold him in the highest respect.”

No matter how many more years that he plays in Denver, Manning will always be remembered as the standard-bearer for the Colts franchise. The guy who put the city on the NFL map and kept it there for 14 seasons.

“I understand when people ask the question [about replacing Manning as the national face of the team]. I would ask the same question if I was a fan or part of the media or in different shoes in a sense,” Luck said. “I’ve always felt I’m very fortunate just to play quarterback in this league. A chance to get paid to play a kid’s game is a wonderful opportunity. It never grinded on me or wore me down.”

From a personal standpoint, he thanks Colts fans for making the transition a lot easier than it could have been.

“I came here to play football and not worry what other people think of me. People in the Midwest have been incredibly kind. It makes it easier the transition,” he said. “I never worried about what the fans were going to think of me. I figured if you can take of your business, if you can hopefully win some football games then it becomes easier on that end.”

Wayne — one of Manning’s former teammates with the Colts and a close friend — has been impressed by the young quarterback on-and-off field demeanor.

“He’s doing it like the first pick of the draft should do. He’s taking it in stride. We as his teammates are doing our best to try to make him look good. He’s being Andrew,” he stressed.

“What you see is what you get. He’s always the first one in here and the last one to leave. He’s handled it quite well and hopefully it gets better from here.”

 

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