Luck looking for his Heisman moment
STANFORD, Calif. — Most visitors to Jim Plunkett's house want to see his Heisman Trophy. Maybe even pose for a photo with the bronze statue and the only Stanford alum to win the prestigious award.
Not Andrew Luck.
He's a meat and potatoes kind of guy.
During a homemade dinner Plunkett hosted at his house last year, Luck stuck to the basics: a plate of beef tenderloin, potatoes and other vegetables Plunkett cooked for the current crop of Cardinal quarterbacks, sprinkled with a side of football talk past and present. The tantalizing trophy room down the hall stayed vacant.
"I don't think he ever walked over there," Plunkett said. "We don't necessarily talk about the Heisman."
Not after decades of disappointment.
In the years since Plunkett brought the Heisman back to the Bay Area in 1970, no West Coast player outside of Southern California has won the award. John Elway finished second and so did Toby Gerhart and Luck the last two years.
"It would be nice to have another Stanford player come out to New York with me as a winner," Plunkett said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. "I would take a certain amount of pride in that. I look forward to that happening someday. Hopefully it's going to happen with Andrew Luck. I don't know. I certainly hope it does."
How soon the drought ends could depend largely on this week.
Luck will take the biggest and brightest stage of his career Saturday night when he leads undefeated and third-ranked Stanford against No. 6 Oregon, the only team to defeat the Cardinal and the star quarterback during a two-year run of near-perfection.
A national television audience will be watching college football's showcase game, including voters looking for Luck to seize the moment and perhaps a spot in the sport's most famed fraternity. Just ask last year's winner.
"I think this week is going to be a very good test," said Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers rookie and former Auburn quarterback. "I've been tuning in and I'm a big fan of Andrew Luck. I had an opportunity to meet him last year and I think he's an unbelievable guy, first off. And on the field, well, everybody sees what he does on the field.
"I'm rooting for him."
The difference between taking home the award and losing it could be the difference between a win and a loss against an Oregon team that stifled Stanford's offense in the second half last season.
If Luck helps avenge that 52-31 defeat in Eugene and keeps the Cardinal (9-0, 7-0 Pac-12) in the national championship race, he could run away from the pack. If he and Stanford stumble, the race could get tighter in a hurry.
As former winners know, big games make or break Heisman moments.
"You have to get hot at the right time," said Carson Palmer, the Oakland Raiders quarterback and 2002 Heisman winner at Southern California. "It's kind of like the playoffs in the NFL or basketball. If you get hot in March Madness or you get hot in the NFL playoffs, it doesn't matter what your regular-season record was if you start playing your best football at the right time.
"So right now it's kind of go-get-it time for him."
Luck began the season as one of the most overwhelming favorites for the award in years.
After turning down a chance to be the NFL draft's No. 1 pick and making scouts salivate over his potential for another year, Luck has matched the hype and — perhaps more importantly — kept Stanford perfect.
While Luck might win the award anyway, another loss to Oregon would always be a blemish.
Elway returned for his senior year in 1982 and became the NFL's top pick the following April, although a loss in the Big Game against rival California with the infamous image of the Stanford band running on the field on the final play might have cost him the trophy. Plunkett, meanwhile, led Stanford to the Rose Bowl his final year during one of the program's golden eras.
Luck's legacy at Stanford is still unfinished.
"I hope it may be defined by more down the road. Maybe more big games," Luck said. "Dan Marino never won the big game. He's obviously one of the great players of all time. So you want to win the big games, but you don't get caught up in it. Maybe down the road you'll think back and say, 'I'm glad my legacy was created by this game or whatever.' But I don't want to get caught up in it now."
Luck cares more now than he shows on the surface.
While he is nothing if not humble, he admits the award would mean so much to so many others close to him and the university. A copy of Plunkett's Heisman rests, ever so lonely, in a glass case a few steps from where Luck's weekly roundtable with reporters is held. Luck acknowledged he has glanced at the award a time or two.
Luck has been riding the wave of Stanford's spectacular start.
The quarterback's statistics are superb — 2,424 yards, 26 touchdown passes and a 174.1 passer rating that is fifth in the country — but not all that more than other contenders'. The difference is Alabama's Trent Richardson, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Boise State's Kellen Moore, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Oregon's LaMichael James all are on teams outside of the national title race — for now — and none have received the attention that has surrounded Luck since spring practice.
Stanford played a relatively weak first-half schedule until topping USC in triple overtime two weeks ago, a game where Luck threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown late in regulation, then rallied the Cardinal with four straight TD drives in a moment that might come to symbolize his Heisman campaign.
That is, depending on what happens against Stanford's Pac-12 North rival.
"They have a big game this week with Oregon coming to town, and they win that I think they'll be in the BCS title game," said Gerhart, the Minnesota Vikings running back and Stanford's runner-up in 2009. "So big one for him. As long he keeps performing — it helps when they're winning and they get national games on TV — there's no doubt in my mind he's the best college player in the land."
While many Heisman members will be watching a continent away, Plunkett will be in attendance as he is for most Stanford home games.
The former Cardinal and Oakland Raiders quarterback has known Luck almost four years and has cheered every step of his evolution — as a quarterback, student and public speaker. One of his fondest memories was watching Luck handle himself in a TV interview earlier this year.
As Plunkett looked on with his wife, Geraldine, the two couldn't help but chuckle.
"He was humble, somewhat shy, and he stumbled a little bit and didn't know quite what to say," Plunkett said. "It reminded me of me. It's just reminiscent how I acted at one point in my life."
Back before he was a Heisman winner.