INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck spent months vying to be No. 1.
The struggle played out on college football fields in California and Texas last fall, at offseason awards presentations in Florida and inside a theater room in New York City. This year's great draft debate took the top two college quarterbacks to Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine and back to their campuses for personal workouts and interviews.
Now, barring some unforeseen circumstance before this Thursday night’s NFL draft, commissioner Roger Goodell will declare Luck the winner when the Colts make him the first overall pick. The truth is, there may not be a loser in this competition.
“Both guys have tremendous intangibles and their skill sets are outstanding,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said last week. “I don't see how either of them are not successful in this league.”
In the NFL world, there's no such thing as a sure bet. Just ask JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf.
Most analysts believe, however, Luck and Griffin will be smart picks if they can stay healthy and their teams remain patient with their development.
So why are the Colts taking Luck?
Luck's resume looks like a virtual carbon-copy of his predecessor in Indy, Peyton Manning.
He's smart, loves the game and leaves nothing to chance. Even their paths to the draft are similar.
Like Manning, Luck grew up with an NFL-playing quarterback father. Like Manning, Luck left his home state to play college football. Like Manning, Luck ignored the temptation to leave school after three years, even though both would have been the No. 1 pick. Like Manning, Luck finished second in the Heisman Trophy race during his final college season and the Colts are hoping that, like Manning, Luck will make the Colts a regular Super Bowl contender.
So after 14 mostly successful seasons under Manning, the Colts have decided to go with the next best thing: Luck.
Luck also comes from a pro-style offense, the kind he is likely to run in Indianapolis, and his successes are hard to match.
In three seasons under Luck, the Cardinal went from a sub-.500 team to national championship contender. He broke John Elway's school record for most TD passes in a career and last season completed 70 percent of his passes while throwing only nine interceptions.
Still, Luck felt he had something to prove at his pro day.
“Just that I can make NFL throws,” he said then. “Whether it's timing, the skinny post to the right, the quick out or the deep ball. Just tried to cover all the bases.”
Griffin's resume is every bit as impressive.
In 2011, the Texas prep star who opted to stay home for college, threw for 4,293 yards, 37 TDs, completed 72.4 percent of his passes and threw just six interceptions — better numbers than Luck’s. His incredible mobility drew raves, too.
And after throwing for 479 yards and four TDs in a win that knocked Oklahoma out of the national title chase, Griffin burst onto the national scene as a Heisman contender. Eventually, he beat Luck in that one.
But NFL scouts knew Griffin — popularly was a star much earlier.
Like Luck, Griffin has demonstrated there's more to life than football.
At the 2011 NCAA convention, NCAA president Mark Emmert singled out Griffin as an example of a model student-athlete.
Griffin earned his political science degree in three years, graduating in 2010. He was a regular on Baylor's dean's list and still has aspirations of attending law school. He was fast enough to qualify for the 2008 Olympics trials semifinals in the 400-meter hurdles and passionate enough about volunteering to find time to help five charities.
So when Griffin decided to leave school early, it was because he felt it was time, not because of the money.
“Sometimes you just have that feeling and I had it after the bowl game,” Griffin said when he declared for the draft after resuscitating Baylor's football program. “Like I said, it's been real exciting here at Baylor, it's been a lot of fun. And in life, that's what you try to do, you try to be happy, you try to have a lot of fun.”
The Redskins think Griffin is a perfect fit in Washington, right down to that political science degree.
GM Bruce Allen and coach Mike Shanahan were so convinced about Griffin's ability that they paid a hefty price to get a shot at him. They traded this year's first and second-round picks and first-rounders in each of the next two years to St. Louis to move up four spots to get either Luck or Griffin.
Shanahan understands what that kind of move that can do for a franchise. He won two Super Bowls with Elway in Denver but hasn't been back to the NFL's big game since Elway retired after the 1998 season. Griffin could be just the guy to change that.
“You get someone you feel like can be a franchise quarterback for years to come, that doesn't happen very often,” Shanahan said at the recent league meetings. “To have that guy — they're hard to find.”
Photo: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III