Monday, January 7, 2013

Heir Apperant

Indianapolis Colts fans are spoiled.  Very spoiled.  They likely know it, too.  They had one buffer year of garbage between perhaps the best quarterback of all time in Peyton Manning to the next great thing in Andrew Luck.  Bowing out in the first round of the playoffs after going 11-5 on the season the year after going 2-14 was a revelation lead largely by Luck.


Greatness replacing greatness is rare in sports.  Few want to be "the guy to replace the guy".  However recent history has a few examples of how teams have fared when they are lucky enough to fall into that position.  For a peak at the potential future of the Colts, let's have a look at the outcomes for those lucky enough to have this problem:

To start this story let's hop in the way back machine, all the way back to the year 1984.  A moribund hockey franchise clings to life as they finish last in the NHL with a putrid 16-58-6 record.  Whether they tanked the season or not is up for debate.  The outcome remained the same: Mario Lemieux was now a Pittsburgh Penguin.

Through health scares, broken bones, bad backs, and bankruptcy Mario was the face of the team.  His presence lead to a boom in hockey interest in Western, PA and put the Pens on the map.  Once an afterthought in destinations for trades and free agents Mario made the Igloo a prime destination for anyone wanting to have the chance to win in the NHL.

After 17 seasons, 690 goals, 1723 points, and two Stanley Cups Lemieux was nearing the end of his career.  His body was failing him, his franchise was in danger of relocation to another city and the aging superstar that put Pittsburgh hockey on the map was in danger of leaving (literally) his team when it needed him most.

Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby 
Then the balls bounced their way.

With the first overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, a draft they happened to win via a lottery due to the lockout the previous season, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected the player long believed to be The Next One: Sidney Crosby.

With Sidney Crosby game another once-in-a-generation talent.  A player that had to be seen to be believed.  While not as much a raw talent as Lemieux all eyes were on him and it showed at the box office, where the Penguins began to sell out, and in the standings.

With the season about to begin Sid ranks as one of the league's preeminent scorers, players, and people.  Oh, and he's brought home another Stanley Cup as well as kept the Penguins in Pittsburgh.  A contract signed in 2012 silently promises another 12 years of greatness in Pittsburgh.  That's nearly 30 years of elite talent on the ice in a row.

Going back to that time machine and ending up in the year 1987 when the San Antonio Spurs drafted Navy Midshipmen center "The Admiral" David Robinson with the first overall pick.  Though it took until 1989 for Robinson to join the Spurs while he finished his service, prompting rumors that he would become a free agent instead of signing, he took up what would become a Hall of Fame career path.

David Robinson and Tim Duncan
Named Rookie of the Year in 1989-90 as well as winning Gold with the Dream Teams of 1992 and 1996 something was missing.  The Spurs always came up short in the playoffs, sometimes by Robinson's own admission at his lack of ability.  An MVP in 1995 did not stop a string of five straight playoff defeats.

Then came the injuries.

A painful back and a broken foot in 1997-98 lead to a lost season for Robinson and a lost season for the Spurs.  A 20-62 record was a blessing in disguise as the Spurs won the Draft Lottery and ended up with the first pick in Tim Duncan.

Known as the Twin Towers it took only two years for the Spurs to finally shake the monkey off of their back and win their first ever NBA Title.  Despite a truncated, locked out 1998-99 season the Spurs, with Robinson and Duncan, lifted the Larry O'Brien Trophy.  Another championship in 2002-03 saw Robinson leave the NBA a two time champion but it didn't stop Duncan.  A retooled Spurs line up with Duncan as the key saw another two championships in the next six years, with the Spurs upending the Pistons in 2005 and the Cavaliers in 2007 for two more rings, these of Duncan's very own.

Though his career is winding down the Spurs and Duncan continue to thrive, continually a force in the NBA. After 25 years the Spurs continue to feature one of the best centers in not only the league but in history and it continues to get them within distance of an elusive fifth championship.

A minor trade took place in 1992 when the Packers acquired a troubled and erratic quarterback from the Atlanta Falcons.  As soon as Brett Favre got a shot to shine, after a mid-game injury to Don Majkowski, he never looked back.  From there the Gunslinger was born.

All Brett Favre would go on to do is become the three time MVP of the league, lead the Packers to two Super Bowls, and become the man who brought the Lombardi Trophy back home to Green Bay.  Setting multiple passing records and never missing a game made him legendary, even as his numbers began to wane and the Packers began to slowly erode.

With age catching up to Favre, and continued questions of whether he would retire or play, the Packers drafted a young quarterback from Cal U who fell to them in the first round.  With the 24th pick the Packers selected the strong armed Aaron Rodgers.  And then he sat.  He learned.  He listened.  He took in as much as he could while he waited for his turn to play.

Finally in 2008 it became a little too much for the Packers.  Despite a great run which saw the Pack end up in NFC Championship Game (losing to the Champion Giants) Favre announced his retirement.  Rodgers was ready to take over.  Even after Favre announced his comeback he was sent to the Jets and it was not Rodgers' team.

Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers
It took only one season for Rodgers to announce that he was there.  In 2009 he led the Packers to the a Wild Card birth where, despite amassing 45 points on offense, throwing for four touchdowns and 422 yards, they were eliminated by the Arizona Cardinals.  The next year, despite injuries, he and the Green and Yellow caught fire at the right time.  Before they knew it he was lifting a Lombardi Trophy of his own.

Rodgers has gone on to his continued great play.  An MVP award last year has lead to another stellar season in the shadow of Adrian Peterson... whom he escorted out of the playoffs on Saturday.  At only 29 there could be many more deep playoff runs and Lombardi's in his future.  For over 20 years Packers fans have had stellar arms to watch.  Sounds pretty similar to Indianapolis.

It's far too soon to say whether Andrew Luck will be a Hall of Famer, or even a Hall of Greater.  It's too soon to say whether Andrew Luck will ever lead the Colts to the Super Bowl.  It's not too soon to say that the Colts are, historically, in a very enviable position. If the trends above are any indication there's a lot more to come from Luck.

No pressure, Andrew.
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