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 quarterbacks to Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine and back to their college campuses for personal workouts and interviews.
Now, barring some unforeseen circumstance before 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 earlier this 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.
In fact, Colts owner Jim Irsay said he used a similar evaluation model to the one then GM Bill Polian used back in 1998 when the Colts had to decide between Manning and Leaf.
Polian and the offensive coaches studied every throw those two made in college. Then, after interviewing both at the combine, Polian and the coaches each came up with an assessment. The GM then asked the late Bill Walsh to weigh in.
Yet it wasn't until the personal workouts that Polian said he was convinced Manning was the right guy — the same stage at which the Colts made up their minds about Luck.
At that point, the Colts contingent already was impressed by Luck's decision to throw into the wind at Stanford, giving scouts insight not only into Luck's ability but also his mental makeup. The message was that Luck, who is on schedule to earn an architectural degree, wouldn't let outside conditions or blitzing defenses dictate what he does.
"You have to go into it with amnesia when you really start getting into it because you want an open mind and not be influenced by outside sources and those sorts of things," Irsay said.
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. His incredible mobility drew raves, too.