Horseshoes adorn the team helmets. For all we know, acorns accompany each meal, a rabbit’s foot hangs in each locker and four-leaf clovers are stitched on each jock.
That’s how fortunate the Indianapolis Colts have been for the past 17 years.
Most franchises never have the opportunity to draft a quarterback with the No. 1 pick and watch him blossom into an all-time great. But fate smiled on Indy in 1998, when the Colts selected Peyton Manning, and made a return visit in 2012, when the team picked Andrew Luck.
A player’s surname has never been more appropriate to a particular franchise.
Having led his team to the playoffs for the third time in as many seasons, Luck won his second postseason game in Saturday’s 26-10 victory against Cincinnati. He threw for 376 yards and completed 70 percent of his passes (despite a half-dozen drops). His passing yardage was 345 yards through three quarters, before Indy emphasized the ground game.
Prior to the Colts shutting him down, Luck demonstrated the assets that make him great – size, strength, athleticism, mobility, vision and accuracy – on a 36-yard touchdown to Donte Moncrief. Luck stepped up in the pocket and threw on the run while a Bengals’ defensive lineman was mauling him, hitting Moncrief in stride with a perfectly placed pass as the wideout crossed the goal line.
“It’s a quarterback-driven league,” Colts guard Jack Mewhort told the Indianapolis Star afterward. “It’s proven stuff, and for a guy to do what he does and make the plays he makes on a regular basis, you can’t take that for granted. There are guys all over the league sitting home right now, and plays like that (touchdown to Moncrief), that’s why we get to keep playing.”
Indy is growing accustomed to its current exceptional passer, who is rewriting records that belonged to the former guy. For instance, when Luck passed for 370 yards against Washington in Week 13, he set the franchise mark for 300-yard games in a season (10), surpassing Manning (nine).
They’ll share the field Sunday when Denver hosts Indy in a divisional playoff game. It will be their second meeting this season and their third since 2013, with each QB having won at home.
The first Luck-Manning playoff commentary has been uttered.
“We face the Broncos in a sense,” Luck said Saturday during his postgame news conference. “I’ve never been into the quarterback-versus-quarterback thing. We’re not on the field at the same time. But I have a lot of respect for him and what he still does is amazing. He’s a stud. But I’ll worry about the Denver defense. That’s what I have to worry about.”
Unlike most NFL teams, the Colts have no worries or questions under center. The position has been as reliable as sunrise. Manning didn’t miss a start in 13 years with the team until he sat out the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. Luck has yet to miss a start in three seasons as Manning’s successor.
That’s an incredible amount of serendipity with signal-callers.
First the Colts had to be lousy enough in 1997 to earn the first pick. They went 3-13, edging out a quartet of four-win teams (Arizona, Chicago, Oakland and San Diego). Then the Colts had to be smart enough to make the right pick in 1998, when many draft experts thought Ryan Leaf was equal or better than Manning.
In Leaf’s entire career, he passed for 3,666 yards and 14 TDs; Manning had 3,739 yards and 26 TDs as a rookie – his career lows.
Manning’s injury came at the best possible time for Indy, the year Luck was entering the draft. First the Colts positioned themselves with a 2-14 campaign, securing the No. 1 pick via a tiebreaker against 2-14 St. Louis. Then Indy chose Luck instead of Robert Griffin III, a move that seems smarter each week.
RG3’s place in the history books is yet to be determined, while Manning’s is secure and Luck’s is settling like quick-dry cement. But there are many ways to make a name for yourself.
Consider Curtis Painter.
He had a fine career at Purdue University from 2005-2008, twice leading the Big 10 in passing yards, completions and attempts. His NFL career didn’t amount to much – three seasons since 2009 – and he didn’t play in the league this year. But Painter makes for a great trivia question:
Who was Indy’s leading passer in 2011, bridging the gap between Manning and Luck?
The answer is Painter.
But for all intents and purposes, it’s “who cares?”
That’s how the enviable Colts respond.