Living up to the legacy of Peyton Manning would be difficult enough for most quarterbacks, but Andrew Luck just might be different. After all, he already has emerged from the shadow of a big-time quarterback: his own father.
Growing up as the son of former West Virginia star and Oilers backup Oliver Luck presented its own set of challenges, but Andrew had no problem developing into a star in his own right. His background surely will come in handy now that he's ready to handle an even more daunting task: replacing future Hall of Famer Manning, who was released last month to set the stage for Luck's arrival.
"Peyton was my hero growing up. He was my football hero," said Luck, who is expected to be taken by the Colts with the first overall pick in Thursday's draft. "That's who I modeled myself after in high school, middle school, whatever it was. You never truly replace a guy like that."
Maybe not, but Colts fans will surely expect a lot from their next quarterback. Especially after Manning delivered so many memorable moments during a 14-year run in Indianapolis that ended after last season because of continued neck problems. The Colts parted ways with Manning in early March, and he signed with the Broncos.
Not to worry, says Luck.
"I set fairly high expectations for myself," said Luck, the Heisman Trophy runner-up the last two seasons. "I don't really get involved in what other people set for me, aside from my parents, family, people I truly care about."
But if there was ever a quarterback made to weather the difficulties that lie ahead in a city used to quarterback brilliance, it's Luck. Growing up in a family in which football was always a primary pursuit, Luck has flourished at every level by maintaining his focus, carefully building the skills required for excellence, and transforming himself into an elite quarterback who appears ready for greatness in the NFL.
"[Luck] is a great player," said Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who said last week that the team has settled on its pick, although he declined to say Luck was the choice. "The last guy in the last row of any stadium can tell you that he's a heck of a quarterback, a heck of a person, intelligent kid. He's got a lot to offer."
This will not be an easy transformation, though. Just as Manning had to mature during his rookie season, when the Colts went 3-13, Luck will have his work cut out. He joins a team that not long ago was of championship caliber but has been taken apart piece by piece by injuries and salary-cap concerns. Two days after the Colts announced Manning's release, they said goodbye to four other longtime stars: tight end Dallas Clark, running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt.
"He's got all the qualities, mentally and physically," said Harbaugh, the 49ers' coach. "He's as prepared as anybody that you're going to find. He's really good. He's got a lot of talent."
Harbaugh thinks Luck is uniquely suited to face the comparisons to Manning.
"Fair or unfair, it's the nature of the business," Harbaugh said. "But he's very equipped to deal with it. He's one of the finest football players I've ever been around and an even better person."
And perhaps the greatest compliment of all from Harbaugh: "I'm not going to like playing against him. I'm not looking forward to that."
At least the 49ers don't have to face him this season. Then again, by the time Luck does face his former coach, he'll be that much more comfortable in his new uniform, the one he'll put on Thursday.