Luck Leaves Stanford Stadium a Winner

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STANFORD, Calif. - One of a kind. That's how Andrew Luck's appreciative coach described him.

"There's no player in America like Andrew Luck,'' was the biased but hardly inaccurate phrase of David Shaw. "Forget about the stats."

In his last game at Stanford Stadium, Luck's stats were good but not great, maybe not the kind he needed to win that Heisman Trophy. But Saturday night they were the kind he needed to lead the Cardinal over Notre Dame 28-14.

Four touchdown passes, 233 yards. If that isn't enough to get Luck the award for which since last summer he has been the favorite, then, class kid he is, Luck says he'll accept whatever the vote decides.

"I don't know,'' said Luck when asked if on this cool evening by the bay he had helped or hurt his chances. "I don't worry. All that matters is how I did to the guys in the locker room and the coaches."

You know what the coach says. Shaw took over this season after Jim Harbaugh moved to the San Francisco 49ers. He was offensive coordinator the last couple of years, when Stanford built a 23-2 record, one loss each season.

"Forget about comparisons of other guys,'' said Shaw, knowing full well all we do in sports is compare - individuals, teams, seasons, everything. "What (Luck) does at the line of scrimmage, what he does with the ball, the kid is completely unselfish.

"The kid doesn't care if you don't throw a pass. He doesn't care about his stats. He doesn't try to get bigger stats so he can win awards. The kid is the definition of what you would want at the quarterback position in all facets."

The kid arrived four years ago, with other top players, buying into the idea he and fellow top recruits could take a Stanford team that was 1-11 in 2006 and create a difference. And he and they did.

Maybe he doesn't care about stats, but he certainly has them. The four TD passes against the mostly frustrated Irish (8-4) gave him a career total of 80, overtaking John Elway's Stanford record of 77. He has 35 touchdown passes this season, breaking his own mark of 32 set a year ago. And not to be ignored, this was the 15th game Luck had two or more touchdown passes.

Yes, he will be the first pick in next spring's NFL draft. Yes, even with a year of eligibility remaining, he's going pro. Unless, as he pointed out, "something freakish happens."

The only thing freakish Saturday night was Stanford's attire. Everyone's negotiable, right? So Stanford was bought out by Nike, which loves to leap into these nationally televised games and produce uniforms that look like they were stolen from "Star Wars" (Oregon) or, in this case, borrowed from Dracula.

Instead of the red jersey, white pants and white helmet with the big red "S'' on the side, Stanford wore deep red jerseys and pants, with black helmets, socks and - egad! - unreadable black numerals. Wasn't Halloween a month ago?

Asked what he thought about the unis, Luck deftly avoided an answer, understandably.

But it's what inside the clothing that counts, and Luck and his teammates went out and took control against what Luck said was a great Notre Dame defense. What others might say is the offense wasn't so great, the Irish changing quarterbacks from Tommy Rees after he got banged around to Andrew Hendrix.

Notre Dame, despite an 87-yard drive for a touchdown in the closing minutes, was outgained 429 yards to 309. Luck by himself had 243 yards, 20 of those on the ground.

Stanford was high in the BCS rankings before the weekend, but the way the bowl arrangements may sort themselves out, the Cardinal - despite going 11-1 so far - might be relegated to something like the Sun Bowl rather than placed in the Sugar or Fiesta Bowl.

Shaw took a shot at the BCS earlier in the week, contending Stanford deserves more than it has received.

"I wasn't bashing the BCS,'' Shaw said Saturday. "Just the explanations I kept getting didn't make any sense to me, and I'm a commonsense person."

His quarterback, who will have one more game, is an uncommon person, whether finding receivers with passes or, as he did on his final journey out of Stanford Stadium, finding fans in the first row and slapping hands as he jogged past.

"I think we're all very proud to be part of this program," said Luck, sitting with linebacker Chase Thomas, defensive back Michael Thomas and tight end Coby Fleener, Luck's favorite target. "To turn it around gives you a lot more satisfaction than coming in and having everything be a cakewalk. I couldn't be happier."

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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