Luck 'Phenomenal' in Stanford's Victory

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STANFORD, Calif. - He was wet and weary. But on this rainy Saturday night, Andrew Luck also was a winner. Of a football game, a traditional game that means as much to him as - maybe more than - the Heisman Trophy he might not win.

Whether Luck helped or hurt his chances for that individual prize is up to the observers and then the voters, but the only thing that concerned him was Stanford beating Cal in the 114th Big Game, if only 31-28, which might be considered a negative for a 17½-point favorite.

Yet there was Luck with his teammates as the trophy in the nation's sixth-oldest collegiate football rivalry, the old fireman's ax now mounted on a plaque, was hauled over to the end zone where the Stanford students stood and cheered.

A week ago, Luck and Stanford took a beating on the same field, run through and over - and intercepted twice - by an Oregon team that seemed unbeatable. Then everything had turned.

Up north in Eugene, USC, perhaps the best team in the West though ineligible for postseason competition, defeated Oregon. And not long after, Stanford beat Cal.

Add that to the losses by Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and maybe Stanford, now 10-1 with Notre Dame to play next week, could be selected for the BCS Championship Game, or at worst one of the other BCS bowls.

Luck seemed out of luck early, completing only one of his first five passes, one of those passes turning into his third interception in two games. But as he pointed out, interceptions and incompletions are part of football.

Also part of football, when Luck is at quarterback, is production when required.

"You're going to make mistakes,'' said Luck, a man who makes very few, "and better to have them at the beginning than at the end of the game."

Luck was 8-for-15 in the first half. Luck was 8-for-10 for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter. When it was over, when Stanford and Luck had started a new winning streak, if a modest one-game streak after their 17-gamer was torched by Oregon, Luck was 20 of 30 for 257 yards, the two touchdowns and one pick.

When it was over, Luck and Stanford were satisfied they had effaced the disappointment of a week earlier.

"It was great,'' said Luck. "I guess the best medicine is football."

In the last two seasons, Stanford has lost only twice, if large, both to Oregon. In the last two seasons, Stanford has swept Cal, located across the salty waters of San Francisco Bay. That after losing to the Golden Bears in 2009, when Luck was a redshirt freshman.

"It means a lot to beat Cal,'' said Luck, who surely has played his final game against the Bears. If he doesn't turn pro, and if he isn't the first pick in next April's NFL draft, then those little cable cars don't climb halfway to the stars up the interstate in San Francisco.

Friends but also enemies. Cal and Stanford respect each other, but as Luck, who despite growing up in Germany and then Houston understands the rivalry, said, "But that doesn't mean we have to like each other."

There have been brawls. There have been assaults of the field by students. There was that never-to-be-forgotten 1982 game when Cal's Kevin Moen scored on the five-lateral kickoff return with no time on the clock and crashed into trombone player Gary Player, who along with the Stanford band had marched into the end zone.

This time there was just determined football, Cal, the massive underdog, coming within a field goal of an upset it could not quite earn.

"They played a heck of a game,'' Luck said of the Cal defense. "Give them credit."

First-year Stanford coach David Shaw, the man who replaced Jim Harbaugh, now the rookie coaching genius for the San Francisco 49ers, had no hesitation giving credit to Luck. Not exactly a shock.

"Andrew was phenomenal,'' said Shaw. "Not just in running and throwing the ball, but once again in dictating the plays that we run and that we have."

Which, of course, is what intelligent, skilled quarterbacks do, especially intelligent, skilled quarterbacks whose fathers played in the NFL, administered NFL Europe and became athletic director at West Virginia, as did Andrew's dad, Oliver Luck.

You grow up around the game, within the game, and you learn the nuances, as Peyton and Eli Manning from their father Archie. Maybe it's osmosis. Maybe it's a desire to make the old man proud.

Oliver Luck, as we understand, is very proud. The Stanford community - you should have seen Andrew slapping hands with ball boys, teammates and anyone near him - is very proud.

"It wasn't pretty,'' said David Shaw, "but doggone it, we fought to the end and got the win."

That's all Andrew Luck wanted.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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