INDIANAPOLIS –That the Colts have a rich heritage at quarterback is beyond dispute.
Since 1953, it has been a position of note for the franchise with performers such as John Unitas, Earl Morrall, Bert Jones and Peyton Manning.
Hall-of-Famer Y.A. Tittle even manned the throttles of the Baltimore Colts in the All-America Football Conference and in 1950 in the NFL before that team ceased and the Colts became a franchise again in 1953.
On Sunday in Chicago, Andrew Luck will become the 37th player to start under center for the Colts since 1953. It is a time of excitement because of the career he forged first at Houston's Stratford High School and then at Stanford University.
In order of lineage, Unitas (118), Morrall (22), Jones (46) and Manning (141) rank as the four winningest quarterbacks in club history. Unitas came to the Colts after a failed attempt with Pittsburgh in 1955, then went on to post of the most outstanding careers in NFL history, one that led the flat-topped leader to Canton.
The Colts were just one of six teams for whom Morrall played, yet he etched a 22-3-1 starting record with the team. He led the Colts to Super Bowl III, then replaced Unitas in Super Bowl V as the club won its third world championship.
Jones and Manning were number one draft choices of the franchise in 1973 and 1998, respectively. Both Louisiana natives, Jones was the second overall pick in his draft, while Manning went first overall.
Luck comes in with the same draft pedigree as Jones and Manning, and all three share the role of playing at the toughest position in sports while representing the start of a new era.
Manning was inheriting a 3-13 team that was being rebuilt. Indianapolis was 2-14 in 2011, and Luck is one of 30 players new to the team, one of 15 current Colts who never have played a snap in the league.
Luck, a Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Trophy winner last year, is identified in the position played by Manning, a 13-year starter for Indianapolis who opened all 208 games (227 with the playoffs) of his Colts career. Jones was drafted the year after the departure of Unitas. He is qualified almost uniquely to address taking over a position manned by someone who had achieved greatness.
"I hope Andrew will look at it similar to I did when I was drafted in 1973. I played the same position as John Unitas. I did not take his place," said Jones. "Andrew Luck is not going to take Peyton Manning's place. He is just going to play the same position for the same football team, and he will do a good job.
"I could not replace John Unitas. He cannot replace Peyton Manning. All Andrew can do is play the best he can in the same position for the same team. He will do just fine. When they do compare him to Peyton, he will know that he has made it. Whether they (observers) mean to or not, it truly is a compliment. I would tell him to turn a deaf ear and keep his head down (to observers) and not worry about it."
Luck shares another pedigree with Jones and Manning. Each had a father who played in the NFL. Luck's father, Oliver, played with Houston from 1983-86. Archie Manning played with New Orleans, Houston and Minnesota over a career that spanned from 1971-84. Dub Jones, a receiver, was the second overall pick of the Chicago Cardinals in 1946, and he had a 10-year career primarily with Cleveland.
Bert Jones believes it is beneficial for a player to have a father who played in the NFL previously.
"It without doubt does help you. If nothing else, it takes the mystery out of the game for you," said Jones. "We (Jones, Manning, Luck) all grew up in a football environment. It was a lot of fun. It was a hoot for me to know one of my dad's best friends was Otto Graham, or for me to hide in the locker of Jim Brown every day.
"I never aspired to play college ball, I was just planning on playing pro ball. That sounds crazy, but it's the truth. I came out of high school knowing that college was my next step to get to pro ball. That's what I experienced. Every summer of my life between 1962 and 1969, I spent in training camp with the Cleveland Browns. It was an unusual adolescence, but one that I would not trade for anything.
"Having your father having done the same thing is kind of like a blacksmith or a carpenter passing along his trade to his son."
Oliver Luck agrees with the notion that growing up around the sport like Andrew did is beneficial. Though Andrew was not born when his father was an active player, Oliver Luck served on the club level and as league president with the World League of American Football. Luck spent more than 10 years as vice president of business development and president/CEO of NFL Europe.
Traveling with his father around Europe, Andrew was able to be around those experiences during his formative years.
"It probably helped him (Andrew) a little bit," said Luck. "It takes a little bit of the luster off of it because you sort of see behind the scenes. It makes it perhaps a more comfortable world because as the kids grew up and they see it and accept it. You don't have that star stuck approach to things."
Luck fielded the question about inheriting the position played by Manning prior to being selected by the Colts. On his first interview in Indianapolis after being drafted, the only surprise was the topic was the sixth one posed by inquiring minds. Luck was ready.
"I know that if I woke up every morning trying to compare myself to Peyton, I think I would go crazy. It's impossible," said Luck. "I realize that, so I am going to go out there and do the best I can. I'm going to put my best forward, and if one day I can be mentioned alongside Peyton in quarterback lore, it would be a football dream come true. Until then I will try to do my best and not get worried about the comparisons."
Luck has stayed true to that message because it is the only one to have. He has other things with which to deal.
Luck will be the 10th rookie to start for the Colts. Ed Mioduszewski (1953, one game), Cotton Davidson (1954, one game), George Shaw (1955, 12 games), Jones (1973, five games), Mike Pagel (1982, nine games), Jack Trudeau (1986, 11 games), Chris Chandler (1988, 13 games), Jeff George (1990, 12 games) and Manning (1998, 16 games) preceded Luck.
Jones knows the obstacles facing a rookie. He believes with the right support that things can go well.
"It is tough to start and last the whole year (laughs)," said Jones. "I think with all that Andrew will have, he will do a fine job. I think they will ease him into the job and not expect him to do things that they don't think he should do.
"It is absolutely (imperative) for a rookie quarterback to have a good supporting cast and a running game that will help him on first down. I think the game has progressed, and I think Andrew Luck will play well right off the bat. Cam Newton did in Carolina. I think it's going to be fun to watch and one of those things that, 'Hmmm, we made the right decision here.' "
The toughest position in sports is quarterback. It is a position that draws lightning-rod attention at all levels. In the NFL, judgments are swift and harsh. Jones knows Luck is equipped for the challenge.
"It is what it is," said Jones. "I did not shy away, nor will Andrew."