INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck walked into the stadium Peyton built, looked around the building and seemed right at home.
Dressed in a gray suit, a light blue button-down shirt and speaking from behind the same podium Manning routinely answered postgame questions, he savored the moment and honored his predecessor.
"He (Manning) was the epitome of class and winning and everything he did was so gracious," Luck said. "In college you’re watching film of Peyton and Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady to see why they’re so successful. He’s such a great example for high school kids, middle-school kids. I was one of those kids who looked up to him."
And now, he’s the one trying to replace Manning.
It won’t be easy.
After next weekend’s three-day rookie mini-camp, the Stanford quarterback will head back to school to finish the two courses he needs to earn his architectural degree. League rules prohibit him from participating in any more practices until classes wrap up June 7.
Between now and then, though, Luck will be doing his NFL homework.
He now has a Colts playbook and is already trying to arrange some individual work with Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne. With the Colts taking his college teammate, tight end Coby Fleener, in the second round, he won’t have to go far to find another receiver to help out.
Still, Luck promised he would be creatively cramming, something team owner Jim Irsay promised to help with.
"We’ll try to be as creative as we can be with planes or helicopters or what have you," Irsay said. "We’ll do what we can within the rules."
The introduction here Friday was the culmination of a wild 24-hour work period.
First, he had to contend with New York City’s media circus. Then, after dinner with Fleener in New York and a short night’s sleep, Luck flew to Indy on Irsay’s private plane. The new franchise quarterback arrived about 4 p.m., spent two hours at the team complex, meeting with his new coach, Chuck Pagano, his new general manager, Ryan Grigson, and Irsay before heading to the stadium for more introductions..
While he looked tired, Luck sounded eager to start working on the biggest challenge of his football career -- filling the shoes of Manning and living up to the lofty expectations.
"When I was doing the interview process and talked to some of the best people in the business, they almost universally said ‘He’s the best player I’ve scouted in 25 years’ or ‘He’s the top prospect I’ve graded in 20 years,’ " Irsay said. "That greatness has followed him around, and he has really handled that with so much humility."
Luck couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. Or keep the No. 12 jerseys out of the stands.
For the first time, maybe in Lucas Oil Stadium history, no No. 18 jerseys were spotted in the crowd.
Instead, they were dressed in No. 12, jerseys that went on sale almost the moment NFL commissioner Roger Goodell uttered Luck’s name.
"Our (two) stores were open till 11 p.m. (Thursday) and we had people waiting there for the commissioner’s announcement," said Jeremy Coffman, director of the Colts’ pro shop. "Business was very brisk."
Coffman estimated the two stores sold a couple of hundred jerseys, at $115 each, Thursday night. He brought a couple hundred more to Friday night’s draft party at the stadium.
Fans couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of their next big hope.
"How lucky can you be to have one franchise quarterback and go straight to another one," said Beau Benjamin, an Indy native who was wearing a Colts’ No. 12 jersey that he won in a contest. "So we’ve got high hopes of another 10 to 15 years of winning. And now we’ve got Coby Fleener to add to that. How excited can anybody be? Or Lucky. No pun intended."
The Colts certainly aren’t staying away from the puns.
On Thursday, Pagano said he felt like the luckiest man in the world. On Friday, Irsay also used the term lucky.
But the luckiest guy on the field Friday may have been 9-year-old Holden Harless of Anderson, Ind., who overcame life-saving surgery to remove a tumor in his spinal cord three years ago at Riley Hospital for Children. Long a Manning fan, he says he’s now a Luck fan after catching Luck’s first pass inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
All Luck has to do now is convert the rest of the city.
"Big shoes may be an understatement," he said. "What he (Manning) did is obviously legendary for this city, for the state, really. If I woke up every morning trying to compare myself to Peyton, I think I’d go crazy. That’s not even possible. You can’t, and I realize that, so I’m just going to go out and do the best I can."