Andrew Luck's love for soccer runs deep
When Massachusetts-born Geoff Cameron took one of his first throw-ins after moving to Stoke City in August 2012, an overly enthusiastic British commentator was moved to declare that the American launched the ball into play "quarterback style." It's a wonderful turn of phrase, but one that truly resonates only when used in relation to Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck, the NFL star. Luck graduated from Stanford with a degree in architectural design, was selected first overall in the 2012 draft, broke rookie yardage records, and became only the fifth quarterback to pass for 20 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. Oh, and doing all this while maintaining that his two favorite things in life are "books and soccer." I had the chance to learn more about Luck's broad embrace of every stripe of football when he guested on this week's Men In Blazers podcast on Grantland. Our interview took place the day after his Colts routed the Texans 25-3, a win that gave him extra pleasure because it was against Houston, the team from the town where he had come of age, making the game a kind of Andrew Luck Derby.
Luck credits his love affair with football of a different kind to the nine formative years he spent growing up in London and Germany following his father, former pro quarterback Oliver Luck, as he helped set up the World League of American Football.
"We lived close to Arsenal's old stadium, Highbury,” Andrew Luck tells me while explaining his voyage of discovery. "The passion the supporters have for their football clubs in Europe is different from the passion NFL or college teams will have. And I think both are great in their own right, but to me ... the supporters of a Tottenham, Arsenal or Manchester United ... I love watching the games and hearing them chant and sing, and I love the fluidity of soccer. The football I play tends to be a much more staccato sport where you go, you stop for a while, maybe a TV timeout, and then you start up again." Luck reminisces enthusiastically about his days as a soccer player in Stanford's intramural rec leagues, describing himself as "a hustler with absolutely zero technical ability." I ask him which Premier League player he most identifies with as an NFL quarterback, reading out a listener's suggestion that he embodies a "mix of Wayne Rooney's grit, Aaron Ramsey's flash, John Terry's presence, Timmy Howard's beard, with a bit of Joleon Lescott's facial expressions mixed in for good measure." Luck laughs, then considers the question carefully before responding.
"I think it would be great to be one of the Toure Brothers [defender Kolo and midfielder Yaya]," he decides. "I love watching those big guys play ... and they have their own song."
The quarterback admits that the intensity of the NFL season precludes him from devoting the energy he would like to soccer. His exposure is limited to the locker-room hours he can invest in "EA Sports FIFA" on the Xbox, and to savoring a solitary match a week.
"I try to watch at least one game to relax on a Saturday afternoon," he says. "That's sort of when I have a little bit of time off." Yet Luck has made time to attend games in person and even flew to London to watch last season's Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Dortmund. "It has always been a dream of mine to go watch a game at Wembley," he explains with enthusiasm. "The pregame pageantry reminded me of an NFL game. They had some knights in shining armor. ... It was like a German invasion."
I broach the thorny subject of which Premier League team Luck calls his own, remarking that an equal number of Arsenal and Tottenham fans have reached out to me believing he was a fellow supporter, a local rivalry akin to Stanford and Oregon. "I know it might not make sense, but I try to support as many of the American fellows playing over there [in the Premier League] as possible,” he says to clarify any misunderstanding. "I started supporting Tottenham because of Clint Dempsey ... but now that he's gone I'm open again, and now you have Jozy Altidore on Sunderland, Brek Shea and Geoff Cameron on Stoke. ... I don't know if that's fair or not." Upon further consideration, Luck circles back to the question to define his affiliation. "The team that I follow completely is the Houston Dynamo," he says. "That's my No. 1 team in my heart because my father used to work for that club [as founding president and general manager]," he said. "I'm definitely plugged into the MLS season fairly heavily. ... It's fun to see the league grow. I think it's great for the sport in this country." I wonder how an NFL star views that growth, broaching the fact that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have both broken the Top 10 favorite athletes as defined by Americans aged 12-24. "It's great," he says, without pausing for a beat. "This country is a great sports country as it is. It can sustain hockey and football and basketball and baseball. Why not soccer?"
To finish our chat, I urge Luck to play an active role in promoting soccer's profile, encouraging him to consider importing the Premier League goal scorer's ritual knee slide celebration into the NFL. The quarterback considers the request for a moment. "I do think the knee slide is a little better than the Gareth Bale thing he does with his hands, the little heart,” he says. "But the knee slide ... I wear a knee brace so that thing might get caught and I'd start spinning over.
"I would be ridiculed for that."