Stanford's Luck Able to Do What He Wanted

By Art Spander

So the kid with the golden arm will wait another year for the gold. Andrew Luck is going to play again for Stanford. A reassuring tale when compared to so many others, but let us not get too deep into morality. His values are admirable. As is his financial situation.

Everyone's negotiable, said Muhammad Ali a long while ago. Everyone, however, is not in the same negotiating position.

Luck has been blessed with talent and brains. He also has been blessed with a family that prizes education and, no less significantly, has been able to provide for his needs along the way.

Virtually every time a star athlete leaves school early to join the NFL or NBA, there's a great deal of distress, usually from alumni. Some of the kids admittedly are enrolled only to get to the pros, and the sooner they get out of the classrooms, the better.

Others are caught between the idealism of learning Voltaire and the realism of learning how to survive on minimal income.

"Call him old-school,'' Oliver Luck said of his son.

Oliver is the athletic director at his alma mater, West Virginia, a former NFL quarterback who taught his children well.

"He comes from a faction of people,'' said Oliver Luck, "who believe you go to college to pursue your degree."

Mainly because most need that degree for employment, not that it doesn't look impressive on an office or living room wall. But as we know, Bill Gates never received his degree. Nor did Tiger Woods, from Luck's school, Stanford. Those two, if in ridiculously diverse fields, have been exceptionally successful.

Most of us don't appreciate the joys of college until we've left. We can't wait to get away. And then we can't wait to get back, thinking about the good times and not the surprise exams or the all-nighters.

If Luck deserves our admiration for sticking around, so does Alterraun Verner, who a few days after the end of his rookie season with the Tennessee Titans is back in classes at UCLA.

Oliver Luck told the New York Times about those who called talk shows to knock his son's decision, "It's a Rorschach test for people's value systems.'' Except in this case, instead of ink blots they are looking at dollar signs.

Which is what the individual who seemingly will become Luck's ex-coach, Jim Harbaugh, is seeing these days, if not figuratively being blinded by them. Turn a 1-11 team into a 12-1 team at an institution where the emphasis is on grade-point average and not yards-per-play average, and you're considered a football genius.

Harbaugh, according to those informed sources who pop up behind every rumor, has been offered $5 million per from the San Francisco 49ers, who train about eight miles south of Stanford; $7 million per from the Miami Dolphins, and God knows what from the Denver Broncos, now under the guidance of a Stanford grad named John Elway.

Harbaugh never will be more in demand. Luck, second in this season's Heisman Trophy balloting to Auburn's Cam Newton, will be in no less demand a year from now.

Members of the "he's making a terrible mistake'' crowd point out that Luck could be injured playing college ball next season, a risk exaggerated to $50 million. But there are insurance policies to cover such risks, and Sam Bradford, who stayed the 2009 season at Oklahoma only to be hurt in the opening game, still was the first selection in the 2010 draft by St. Louis. A good choice he was, nearly getting the Rams into the playoffs.

"There's a risk in everything you do,'' said Oliver Luck, who has been there and done that, in sports, business and education.

Andrew Luck is remarkably unostentatious for a young man who understands both his worth and his skill. At Stanford's weekly media sessions during the season, he exhibited not one iota of arrogance.

Maybe it's the milieu. Tiger said one of the delights of attending Stanford was that with so many creative and gifted students, he was practically ignored.

"Everybody is special here,'' he said back in the mid-1990s. "I'm just another person."

Luck is not just another quarterback. Yet like Tiger, Michelle Wie or other Stanford undergrads headed for fame, he is able to be a normal college kid when he retreats to campus.

"I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design from Stanford University,'' was the cryptic one-sentence statement Luck provided about not entering the draft, "and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring quarter of 2012."

Nothing about football or money.

"I don't want to sound cocky or pretentious,'' Andrew Luck, who never does, explained back in December. "I think it's just you trust the decision you make is the right one."

As a man once sang, you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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