— As advertising campaigns go, “Suck for Luck” is simple and effective. It has two mildly offensive elements — the word “suck” which, for better or worse, has wormed its way into everyday American discourse and seems here to stay; and the suggestion that certain NFL teams should lose on purpose in order to secure the services of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. But for the most part, it’s catchy, and people like to repeat it.
Now if only the NFL teams in question would heed the call.
If ever there were a player worth playing dead for, it’s Luck. He is the anti-JaMarcus. He has John Elway’s genes without being related to him. Forensic cynics have failed to detect a flaw. His very name suggests good fortune. He could probably get a part-time job as a Wonderlic tutor. If you look up “can’t miss” in your computer’s dictionary program (C’mon, when was the last time you used a book?), it links to an Andrew Luck slide show.
That’s why, for an NFL team, there is no shame in sucking for Luck. Let’s face it, the teams we’re talking about suck anyway. What’s a little more gloom? Remember, in actual war, armies retreat all the time, but they often do so in order to strategically reposition themselves for a more forceful assault later to win the bigger conflict. If armies can apply that kind of wisdom, then hapless football teams can.
Naturally, there is another side to this “Suck for Luck” issue: What if he can miss?
I know it’s hard to fathom, but smart people have been known to run many of these NFL franchises. And sometimes they get bamboozled, flimflammed, hoodwinked. Even intelligent men can be seduced by the lure of untapped athletic talent. Draft war rooms contain more temptation than a high-end gentlemen’s club.
Ryan Leaf represents the fools’ gold standard of draft busts. There is a subtle difference between a “can’t miss” and simply a “bust.” But when a player is drafted that high – No. 2 overall in the 1998 draft, behind Peyton Manning – then you can’t avoid using "can’t miss." And Leaf was not only a failure on the field, but an embarrassment all around. (Kudos, by the way, are in order for the grown-up Ryan Leaf, who turned his life around.)
There are many others who were gushed over in their times as Luck is now. The Oakland Raiders took JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007. That was a waste of a $61 million contract. Offensive lineman Tony Mandarich went second overall in 1989 to the Green Bay Packers, but for some curious reason, his production shrank unnaturally.
Brian Bosworth flopped. So did Akili Smith, Matt Leinart, Steve Emtman, David Carr, Tim Couch, Charles Rogers, Courtney Brown, Dewayne Robertson, Heath Shuler, Joey Harrington, Curtis Enis, Lawrence Phillips, Ki-Jana Carter, David Klingler, Rick Mirer, Andre Ware and, until this season, Alex Smith.
They were all high draft picks. Most of them were quarterbacks.
I still support the “Suck for Luck” movement, but with a caveat. When you consider all the men who sat across tables from each other over those many years and debated and discussed all the aforementioned duds, it leads you to the conclusion that you shouldn’t be surprised at any outcome in sports.
Yet I and countless others would be thoroughly gobsmacked if Luck didn’t turn out to be a franchise quarterback who turned a flailing team in a positive direction and kept it there for 10 years or so. He is that good.
Right now the leading candidates to suck for Luck are the Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams, all winless, and the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals with one victory each. None of these teams needs to be persuaded to suck; each already does. It’s just a question of whether at some point in the season those clubs might become distracted and do something foolish like win a couple of games.
The Dolphins desperately need a quarterback. The situations with the others are more complicated.
The Colts have Manning, so Luck would sit and learn for a while, assuming Manning can even return and play again. The Rams and Vikings have young quarterbacks in Sam Bradford and Christian Ponder, respectively, but that doesn’t mean they’d pass on Luck. If you take him, you wind up with two promising signal-callers and a precious trade commodity. And right now I’m sure the Cardinals would be happy to cut the Kevin Kolb era short if Luck were available.
If any of those teams decided to make a play for Luck by not sending their best personnel on the field in an effort to capture a triumph or two, not only would no one care, but no one would notice. That is the unintended blessing bestowed upon the truly awful. Unless quarterbacks of those teams start to take too many phantom sacks, or defensive players actually scoot out of the way and say, “Excuse me,” when a running back approaches, it’s possible for these clubs to suck for Luck in an inconspicuous manner.
And if there is pontification out there in coaching circles that sounds something like, “No team of mine would ever do such a thing!” let me tell you what is really unacceptable: Not setting your team on a winning course for years to come when you have a chance.
If a woeful franchise finishes 2-14 rather than 0-16 and misses out on a game-changer like Luck, is that really cause to celebrate the securing of the fourth or fifth pick in the draft, who might turn out to be a linebacker or offensive lineman that, if he’s really good, can catapult your side to a 4-12 record the following year?
In a business notorious for its poor decision-making, “Suck for Luck” is about the shrewdest move possible.