In an interesting role reversal, Andrew Luck was open.
The subjects ranged from his newly developed taste for Indiana's multi-colored tomatoes to his distaste for being repeatedly asked about his anachronistic flip phone, his absence from social media, and the status of his beard.
He admitted an "unconditional love" for U.S. soccer in general, and a bit of fannish infatuation with star player Clint Dempsey in particular. He explained why it is important to handle himself meticulously well in public, both as a leader and example, while acknowledging a very real disinterest in how he is portrayed in the media.
There was, of course, some American football discussion, because that is what he does better than most anyone else in the world, the reason for his place in the spotlight.
But it was after he left that the real bombshell dropped.
This was not some well-orchestrated plan by the Colts public relations staff to help craft the image of their peerless young quarterback.
This engaging, revealing, interesting and completely informal session with the media was strictly Luck's idea.
You knew he was bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than, well, just about everybody. You knew he had a preternatural maturity. You knew he was already one of the best quarterbacks, one of the best football players, in the NFL.
What you did not know: he enjoys being Clark Kent almost as much as Superman.
No wonder this man is almost always smiling.
Do not be deceived, however, by the appearance, because it masks what really drives Luck, the one trait that makes all the others possible.
In his uncommonly interesting life, Luck has made room for many things that might surprise those who know him only as a football star, but there is one notable exclusion: failure.
"He's just really determined at all times, whether it's playing a football game or playing Settlers of Catan or playing trivia night somewhere," said Matt Hasselbeck, a 16-year veteran serving as Luck's backup. "He's just really a determined, determined person."
Luck seemingly always has been a football star, but that's where reality begins to separate from the myth. Though he does live life under a microscope while perched on a pedestal, understand: he has found the balance that makes it possible to live that life as fully as time allows.
He regularly plays Settlers of Catan, a board game in which the players acquire resources in order to build roads, settlements, cities – the fundamentals of civilization. He also enjoys Bananagrams, a word game. He thought long and hard about attending Gencon this year but the team's schedule conflicted.
His first sporting love was soccer, primarily because he spent his formative years in Europe. He has a degree in architectural design from Stanford, having been graduated with a 3.48 GPA. He hopes one day to design an environmentally friendly stadium.
Had he never picked up a football, you get the distinct impression Luck would've had no difficulty finding something challenging, enriching and ultimately rewarding to conquer.
Luckily for the Colts, fútbol in Europe gave way to football in Texas and the rest, quite literally, has been historic.
In his chosen profession, Luck has already has thrown for more yards than any quarterback in NFL history in his first two seasons (8,196). Of the Colts' 22 wins in his brief tenure, exactly half have come as the result of comebacks in the fourth quarter and/or overtime. That's another record for the first two seasons of a quarterback's career.
In each of those seasons, he guided the Colts into the playoffs. They lost in the wild-card round his rookie year, and then advanced to the divisional round before falling to the Patriots a year ago.
This season, which begins Sept. 7 in Denver against Peyton Manning's Broncos, has brought realistic discussions of a trip to the Super Bowl, and not just among what the old curmudgeon Bill Polian used to dismiss as pundits and mavens.
This is the owner talking:
"You know when you have a great player like Andrew at quarterback that everyone's going to set the bar high for achievement," Jim Irsay said. "So we won the division, we won a playoff game, and now it's just a question of trying to get deeper. ... I really think the mindset and the atmosphere and the desire to win a championship is there."
Griff Whalen was Luck's roommate for three years at Stanford and is entering his third season as his teammate with the Colts.
So, Griff, what's Andrew really like?
Pause. Exhale. Hands on hips. Furrowed brow.
"Uh ... I don't know," he said. "Football isn't his whole life, there's a lot of other stuff that interests him. He loves to travel and read and he's always trying to learn new stuff. He's very curious, I guess I would say."
Pep Hamilton worked with Luck for two seasons as a coach at Stanford. The two are so closely associated, in fact, Hamilton was the first assistant to fill the endowed position, "Andrew Luck Director of Offense" with the Cardinal. Most other places, they just call it offensive coordinator. That's been Hamilton's job title the past two seasons in Indianapolis.
So, Pep, what's Andrew really like?
Pause. Stare, not blank but calculating.
"He is well-rounded," Hamilton said. "He has a life outside of football. He has other interests, worldly interests and of course his upbringing, the time that he spent as a youth in Europe as well as just the exposure that he's had to a lot of different cultures. He's well-traveled. He's a very interesting young man. He can sit and have a conversation with pretty much anybody about anything."
And not just in English.
Luck's father Oliver – a magna cum laude graduate of West Virginia University, Phi Beta Kappa and member of the Academic All-America Hall of Fame – also is a man of many interests beyond football.
Oliver spent five NFL seasons with the Houston Oilers, where popular veteran quarterback Archie Manning was in the final phase of his career. Among the off-field tasks assigned to the rookie Luck in 1982 was looking after Manning's sons, Cooper and Peyton.
Little did anyone know at the time the link that would form between the Lucks and Mannings.
Andrew was born in Washington, D.C., while Oliver and wife Kathy were working as attorneys, but spent his formative years in Europe, where Oliver served as general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy as the World League of American Football was launching. It would evolve into NFL Europe, with Oliver filling the role of league president.
It was during these years that young Andrew was exposed to an entirely new world, traveling the continent with his father and developing a passion for a variety of aspects of European culture, including languages, architecture, cuisine – and, of course, soccer. All three of his siblings, sisters Mary Ellen and Emily and brother Addison, were born in Europe.
The Lucks returned to the U.S. in 2001, when Oliver was placed in charge of the Houston Sports Authority, and he soon became the first general manager for the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer. Though that was Andrew's sport growing up in England and Germany, he soon traded it for the American version of football.
Almost immediately, he became a star, and has been one ever since. After a prolific high school career – he also was co-valedictorian of his graduating class – Luck had a number of college choices (including Purdue) but opted for Stanford. The head coach there was Jim Harbaugh, a former Colts quarterback who developed his own reputation for leading dramatic comebacks.
In that transition from high school to college, Andrew learned about life in the spotlight.
"I think subconsciously I learned a lot of stuff from my dad," he said. "He played quarterback in Houston, right? So like any backup quarterback you're the most revered person in the town it seems like, especially when the team's not that good. So when we moved back to Houston he still had some notoriety and he worked in the sports business world so he was the face of a lot of events or things of that nature.
"You'd see him on TV or read articles in the sports pages and he'd be quoted in them. And when he ran the Dynamo, it's a new sports franchise, it's a big deal, and being a guy that had already been a face in the public was one of the bigger faces of that team. And so you just sort of sit there and watch and pick things up."
After Andrew committed to Stanford, however, he said in an interview with a recruiting publication that he was looking forward to starting for the Cardinal, a potentially off-putting presumption his father quickly corrected.
"He gave me a look that was like, 'Hey, you don't have to compete for a job?' He sort of gave me a lesson," Andrew said. "You have to understand the weight of what you say to a person with a recorder. You can't take things back."
That lesson took root. Luck has carefully crafted a public persona so polished, sometimes the shine makes you squint.
He never offers a cross word, unless it is in self-evaluation. Luck will refer to his own "bone-headed mistakes," but steadfastly avoids that kind of language when it comes to teammates or coaches. Last season, as Darrius Heyward-Bey was dropping passes right and left, not to mention over the middle, Luck never offered a hint of criticism. Though the interior of the offensive line struggled to form even a semblance of a pocket time after time, Luck only offered praise.
The problem is, that's the only side of Luck the public generally sees, and can sometimes generate a false impression of what really makes him tick.
"It's just consistent with someone that knows they're a public figure, like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or whoever it might be, you see them at work and you see that even when they're in the public they're a certain way because they realize they represent something way bigger than just themselves, just the name on their jersey, they represent more than any other player," Hasselbeck said. "In our case, he represents the horseshoe.
"He's very conscious of that, very professional in how he talks and very aware of his surroundings but he is a human being and he has a life and there are things he enjoys. He's a fan of other sports – he's a fan, and he gets all geeked-up like fans do, fanatics. If he didn't have this job, he strikes me as the kind of guy that would paint his face going to a soccer game, like that would be a fun thing to do."
The notion of Luck painting his face for a soccer match might seem far-fetched. Then again, he did travel to Brazil to watch the U.S. team compete in the World Cup, wearing the No. 8 of his favorite player – Dempsey – to the match.
He sees sports through the eyes of a fan as well as a competitor, giving rare breadth to his vision in a world where monocular focus is generally demanded.
Ryan Grigson understood the opportunity, not to mention the challenge. As a first-time general manager with a first-time head coach and a rookie quarterback in 2012, no one would've blamed him for taking the traditional approach: rebuild through the draft, suffer a few difficult seasons while stocking the talent pool around Luck, preach patience to the public and dial back the expectations until the youngster matured into a winner.
He might've entertained that notion entering Luck's first season but as it unfolded, Grigson quickly realized this generation of Colts did not have to wait on Luck. If anything, they would have to work to keep up with him.
The week the Colts were rocked by the announcement Pagano had been hospitalized with leukemia, Luck – in only his fourth NFL game – led the Colts back from an 18-point deficit to beat the Green Bay Packers, passing for 362 yards, including the game-winning pass to Reggie Wayne with 35 seconds remaining.
And the Colts, universally ranked by the experts as the worst team in the NFL entering 2012, were on their way to an 11-5 finish and a playoff berth.
Luck's presence allowed, in fact demanded, Grigson change the traditional rebuilding paradigm. While still focused on the draft, he also invested heavily in veteran free agents and became very active in the trade market. Luck has made it possible to approach each season with a win-now mindset, while also keeping an eye on the future.
"We saw it right away: the rare football IQ, the way he regurgitated the offense after a short time, the great resiliency he showed in fourth-quarter comebacks since the beginning and the way he helped his team literally bounce back after every loss since 2012," Grigson said. "It's been amazing to watch, yet there's still so much room for growth with just more actual game and playoff experience. You know, you still preach patience and take a long-term approach philosophically but if the growth continues to accelerate beyond your continuous short-term goals and expectations you keep raising that bar.
"That's what our coaches and coordinators did and have done. Even though we had to start from scratch in 2012, from a personnel aspect you're instinctively inclined to piece things together and acquire talent on the fly instead of taking the traditional tortoise approach because he's that good now."
After each season, Luck has spent time dissecting his mistakes, identifying his flaws and assembling a plan to correct them. As a rookie, his completion percentage (.541) was low and his turnovers (18 interceptions, five lost fumbles) high, so he focused on being more efficient with his decision-making and protective of the football.
He improved his completion percentage to .602 and reduced his turnovers to 11 (nine interceptions, two fumbles) in 2013.
What's next? Luck's goals this season are to be better in the red zone, finishing drives that reach inside the opponent's 20-yard line with touchdowns instead of field goals, and third-down conversions.
The Colts ranked 10th in the NFL in the red zone last season, scoring touchdowns on 57 percent of their forays, and were 15th in third-down conversions at 38 percent. Not exactly terrible, but when you're trying to win a championship mediocrity screams for correction.
There is another area the Colts would like him to improve: channeling his competitive froth. Luck simply does not want to give up on a play, no matter how badly it breaks down, and often tries to make something where there is nothing.
Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen is encouraging Luck to avoid what he calls "eventful throwaways."
"Made a couple bonehead plays back the past two years where a simple throwaway would've avoided an interception or a hit that could put your body in peril or a hit in a wide receiver that's going up that put him in peril," Luck said. "So a simple, uneventful throwaway can save a lot of harm and bad things from happening."
There it is again: the self-deprecation, the readiness to point out his own flaws, the refusal to do so in teammates.
You can't lead by pushing or pulling. You can only truly lead if others willingly follow.
This is where the real Luck and the image converge.
"I attribute his public persona and the way he is wired to the people who raised him," Grigson said. "Terrific, terrific family. Just spend five minutes with his parents or even his Uncle Will (Wilson, also his agent) or his feisty German grandmother and you kind of get it on all levels. You get why he's so academic, so worldly, you get why he loves ball, you get why he's calm in a storm, you get why he dives over the goal line fearlessly and without hesitation gives up his body to save a TD after throwing a pick.
"While he is as smart and as big and strong as any quarterback I or the coaches have ever been around, I personally feel his humility is what makes him special. His uncle told me in our first meeting, long before we ever drafted him, that Andrew is big in all of his teammates' eyes because of the talent and who he is, but he has a unique way of making himself small at the same time to still be able to be on everyone else's level and be a true teammate. He was right on with that assessment and that's exactly the way he is with his teammates. It's special."
• • •
Manning's imprint on the Colts, indeed upon Indianapolis, is indelible. Luck has drawn comparisons with Manning since his college days, and they've never really stopped. When the Colts open the regular season against Manning and the Broncos on Sept. 7 in Denver, they will once again rise to the surface.
Given what Manning has accomplished, his status as one of the greatest ever to play the game, it would be only human for Luck to resent the comparison or, at the very least, be uncomfortable when the discussion invariably arises.
And yet ...
"I would ask the same question," Luck said. "It's an interesting storyline for fans and people but it is what it is. There's no reason to hold a personal vendetta against someone for doing amazing things on the football field. There's a lot to learn from what Peyton did, not just on the field but how you operate off of it, how you prepare."
Reggie Wayne has played with both and understands it ultimately is a futile exercise to measure one against the other. Luck isn't trying to be the next Manning, because he is completely comfortable with himself.
"One thing that I love about him is that he hasn't changed," said Wayne. "He came in loving the game of football, wanting to be the best, wanting to do everything he can to help the team win and he's still the same way.
"I really believe he's going to be that dude when it's all said and done. He has that aura around him that shows a team that this is a superb leader. He's worthy of being the first pick of the draft. He's worthy of replacing an all-time great. It's something that we love to have on our side. I'm excited to have him as a teammate. He makes me better."
Luck has made the Colts better. In fact, he has carried them back to the brink of greatness, and has managed to do so without trying to become something, or someone, he is not.
The perception of Luck and the reality, when you get right down to it, aren't all that different.
"Some things you can't say but they're just absolutely hilarious," Hasselbeck said. "And they're surprising but they're not. At the end of the day, he's a kid who loves the sport he plays and he just happens to be really good at it. It's kind of fun to be on the journey with him, and Clyde, and Pep and Chuck and everybody. It's competitive even in our (meeting) room, with myself and Chandler (Harnish, the third-string quarterback).
"Coach will quiz on something and the first one to answer, if you can beat Andrew it bothers him so it excites us. Or if we make a mistake he's quick to correct us, even if it's grammatical, like:
'How do you think practice went today?'
'I thought it went good.'
'Ha! It went well!'
"He wins. It's all those little things that make work fun."
Why is this man smiling?
Even though he loves playing a game, you get the feeling he already has won. n
Conrad Brunner is a sportscaster
and writer for 1070thefan.com.