Benner/Sports and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: An open letter to Andrew Luck

June 16, 2012

First of all, welcome young man. It’s about time you finished dealing with that silly stuff like earning your degree in architectural science from Stanford University.

Way to debunk the myth that student-athletes don’t really exist.

Though I suppose that, after making hundreds of millions of dollars in salary and endorsements from playing in the National Football League, you’re going to need a career to fall back on.

But the only architectural thing you need to do here in Indy is build your own legacy of success.

There is, after all, the matter of The Quarterback Who Preceded You.

And I’m not talking about Curtis Painter.

A tough act to follow? Sheesh. It’s like taking the stage just after Sinatra brought down the house with “My Way,” or being next up after Pavarotti nailed an aria at “La Scala.”

All you have to do is make everyone forget. Or, at least, not remember so well.

But first, a little advice about how to make your way here.

Other than win. Big time. And we’ll get back to that.

Now I’m not saying you have to run out and slap your name on a children’s hospital, at least not right away. But we like our superstar guys—and gals, because the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings comes to mind—to be out there in the community, showing they’re willing to share their fame in ways that benefit the greater good.

In addition to the children’s hospital, You Know Who used his celebrity in dozens of ways that endeared himself to the locals. So did the Indiana Pacers’ Reggie Miller, though often in less obvious—but no less impactful—ways.

Second would be, simply, to live here. Look, you can have a dozen homes if you want, but you need to have one here. If you desire some level of privacy, our paparazzi won’t stake out your abode.

And the public—your public—will be respectful. But you need to be visible … to be seen tossing down one of St. Elmo’s famous shrimp cocktail, or enjoying a cold beverage downtown or in Broad Ripple (but please, don’t go there with your punter, Pat McAfee).

And speaking of nightlife, there’s an unwritten code of conduct. I’m reminded of the old line, the higher you climb, the more you expose your behind.

Look, I have no doubt—from what I’ve seen and read—that you are a do-the-right-thing kind of guy. But the Pacers had some knuckleheads a few years back who brought a whole new meaning to the basketball term “shootaround.” The franchise is only now recovering. Even if you win, a certain level of comportment is expected here. We’re also not big on eccentricities, so changing your last name to say, uh, Andrew Uno Dos or Magnum International Solitude, would probably not go over well.

And while we’re on the subject, we Hoosiers—a humble lot, mostly—highly value humility. So that means saying the right thing. Deflect credit. Accept responsibility. The Guy Before You had that down to a science. It seems as if you’re cut from the same cloth.

OK, now back to the bottom line. Winning. You’re likely to have a grace period of one season, max, no matter how long it takes GM Ryan Grigson to assemble the tools around you, or head coach Chuck Pagano to pull the right strings.

Truth is, Andrew, we were a pretty poor excuse for an NFL town before the Laser, Rocket Arm arrived, and it took only one bad year—OK, awful year—for the season-ticket waiting list to evaporate. This isn’t a city of undying loyalty like Green Bay or Cleveland or Philly or Pittsburgh.

We’re with you through thick … and thick.

We’ve been spoiled by the Former Saturday Night Live Host, who made winning—at least in the regular season—the expectation. With him, on every Sunday, there was belief that it would all work out.

“As long as we have 18,” we told ourselves, “we have a shot.”

Now it’s on you to handle it all. Expectations and winning, of course, but also the comparisons to Those Guys, the one in Denver and the one in Washington, D.C., Robert Griffin III.

It seems you are as ready as anyone can be, but, in terms of whirlwinds, this will be an F-5.

Can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring.•

Bill

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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