Luck’s toughest job is replacing Manning in Indy
September 7, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Steve Young understands Andrew Luck’s challenge in Indianapolis.
The rookie quarterback will get peppered with comparisons to Peyton Manning, contend with supportive and critical fans who seek him out around town and will have every part of his professional life scrutinized over the season.
Yes, Luck has the toughest job in pro football – trying to replace a popular Super Bowl-winning quarterback who has relocated.
“If you’re always trying to live through the comparison, it will wear you out,” said Young, one of the few athletes who has successfully navigated these treacherous waters. “But you can turn it around. It’s not easy, but if you say to yourself that ‘all that’s been put in front of me is a tremendous opportunity,’ then you can deal with it.”
Young was the first of three NFL quarterbacks to face such a grueling transition. He took over for the injured Joe Montana in 1991, a starting job that wasn’t firmly his until San Francisco traded Montana to Kansas City in 1993.
More than a decade later, Aaron Rodgers joined the list when he replaced three-time MVP Brett Favre, who retired following the 2007 season. Then Rodgers had to contend with the distracting ordeal of Favre changing his mind and wanting to return. Eventually, the Packers took the same path as San Francisco, trading Favre to the New York Jets and keeping the younger guy.
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Now it’s Luck’s turn. And in some ways, his task may be more challenging. First, he’s replacing a four-time MVP and the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl in Indy. He’s also dealing with the pressure of being a No. 1 overall draft pick and stepping in for a player that was such a big figure in the community that he has a children’s hospital named for him.
Luck has promised he won’t get bogged down with comparisons.
“Whether it’s on or off the field, I’m not measuring myself against Peyton,” he said. “If I did, I’d probably go crazy trying to measure up to him.”
But as Young and Rodgers know, it won’t be easy.
They say the key to succeeding in such a fishbowl is staying grounded, being yourself, living up to your own standards and not worrying about the sideshows outside the locker room.
“I think it’s important to not only take stuff from the guys you play with, but be humble enough to realize that you can learn from guys who have been there and done it before,” Rodgers said.
Young didn’t have that option in the early 1990s.
When he started out, people were telling him stories about baseball or basketball players who had replaced other big names. None of them applied to football, though the closest may have been when the Baltimore Colts traded John Unitas to San Diego in 1973 and took Bert Jones with their first-round pick in the draft.
Unitas played one more season in the league, but it wasn’t Jones who came under the most scrutiny. It was Baltimore’s front office.
“John was always revered in the community of Baltimore,” Jones said, explaining the decision did not come from then team owner Robert Irsay. “He had a GM that had good ideas but didn’t have good PR tact, I would say, instead of allowing these folks to fade into the sunset in a graceful way and in a way that was suitable for their talent.”
Two decades later, Young found himself thrust into the spotlight in a different football world.
After Young endured a challenging 1991 season and won the MVP Award in 1992, Montana wanted to return from an elbow injury that kept him out nearly two full seasons. Some San Francisco fans clamored for Montana’s return, but the 49ers front office thought trading Montana would be a better move. Montana played two seasons in Kansas City, but the comparisons between the two didn’t end until Young won his second MVP and his only Super Bowl as a starting quarterback in 1994.
Almost two decades later, a strikingly similar scene is playing out in Indy.
Manning missed all of last season with a nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm. Without him, the Colts collapsed, going 2-14 and landed the top pick in the draft. It gave them an opportunity to build around a new foundation in Luck rather than stick with a 36-year-old quarterback with a potentially career-ending injury. So team owner Jim Irsay followed the 49ers approach. He released Manning, who signed with Denver, and started over with Luck.
Now comes the hard part – living with the daily pressure of whether he made the right choice.
“Every day, you pick up some bread at the store and somebody says something,” Young said. “It’s not like it’s compartmentalized. It’s everywhere.”
Former Baltimore shortstop Mike Bordick went through a similar experience when he signed with the Orioles in 1997. That move prompted the Orioles to move longtime shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. to third base.
While Ripken and his new teammates were amenable to the decision – Bordick was told the move was going to happen with or without him – it was still difficult for fans to accept.
“Cal kind of put me at ease, let me know it was my decision and I had to do what’s best for my family. But it was still uncomfortable,” Bordick recalled. “Obviously, Cal was a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest shortstops of all time, so to be asked to come in and have him move over to third base, it’s not something to be taken lightly.”
But no position in sports generates more attention – or pressure – than quarterback.
And with Manning in Denver and Luck in Indianapolis, Young will be watching with interest as the season unfolds.
“I was talking with Aaron one day early on and I said, ‘This guy is really good, and that’s the second time there’s going to be back-to-back Hall of Famers,”‘ Young said. “Now it looks like it might happen again. He (Luck) should never doubt it, just use Aaron and myself as examples of how it works out.”
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