About six years ago, former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh had encountered tumbleweeds on a Texas highway in a cross-state recruiting swing aimed to lure high school quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Landry Jones to The Farm.
On this pristine Sunday afternoon by the waters of San Francisco Bay, that 14-hour trek through the desert was nothing but a distant memory.
The high school kid, now an NFL star, had finished an epic return to the area of his college roots by beating the man with whom he'd created a college football powerhouse just a half hour away.
Luck, now at the helm of the Indianapolis Colts, sealed the deal versus Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers. With Indianapolis leading 13-7 in the fourth quarter, Luck faked the hand-off before sprinting left into the empty end zone. The ferocity of his celebratory spike made the ball soar nearly as high as Candlestick Park's upper deck. The Colts finished off the 49ers 27-7.
"I know [Andrew] is grinning ear-to-ear," Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said afterward. "I have never seen him smile the way he smiled after this win. This one meant a lot to him."
Less than 24 hours earlier, Kevin Hogan, Luck's successor at Stanford, had roamed 27 yards untouched to ice the Sun Devils on a play of nearly identical design to the one No. 12 ran into the end zone at Candlestick.
"I realized it was the same play Stanford ran," Luck told me with a smile afterward. "I was watching that last night."
It wasn't just the play that was similar. The Colts' offense, directed by former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, eerily resembled the unit the Cardinal put on the field in 2011. Luck's numbers weren't gaudy: He completed 18-of-27 passes for 164 yards. But his sharp, cold-blooded performance spearheaded a punishing power rushing attack against one of the NFL's best run defenses.
"Very good," Harbaugh, now the prodigy's opponent, conceded afterward. "Very efficient."
Fourteen different players and coaches with history in Stanford's program partook in this 49ers-Colts game, making it possibly the largest Cardinal reunion ever at the NFL level. A Stanford theme dominated the on-field postgame handshake session after, as alumni from both teams embraced at midfield and posed for a group picture. Here's a list of all the Stanford-affiliated participants:
- Jim Harbaugh: 49ers coach
- Greg Roman: 49ers offensive coordinator
- Vic Fangio 49ers defensive coordinator
- Tim Drevno: 49ers offensive line coach
- Peter Hansen: 49ers defensive assistant
- Kevin Tolbert: 49ers strength coach
- Owen Marecic: 49ers fullback
- Alex Debniak: 49ers fullback (injured reserve)
- Michael Thomas: 49ers safety (practice squad)
- Pep Hamilton: Colts offensive coordinator
- Andrew Luck: Colts quarterback
- Coby Fleener: Colts tight end
- Griff Whalen: Colts receiver
- Delano Howell: Colts safety
Luck, though, was the media star of the day that featured more Stanford-NFL symmetry than ever before. Here are some photos from The Bootleg's coverage of the Cardinal reunion at Candlestick.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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