8. Andrew Luck returns

Andrew Luck, No. 1 overall pick -- in 2012

Orange Bowl domination was awesome, but would this be it for the elite era of Stanford football? Would Jim Harbaugh, the savior of the program who had been surrounded by dozens of job rumors for over a year, bolt to Michigan or the NFL? Would Andrew Luck, "The Truth," follow him out the door? Had the clock run out on Stanford's 15 minutes of fame?

We continue our ambitious offseason series, counting down the top 40 moments of the Harbaugh/Shaw era.

No matter how you slice it, Stanford football has arrived. Though we've since assumed all the trappings of a football powerhouse – the three straight runner-up finishes in Heisman voting, the two straight BCS bowl berths and top-10 finishes, the top-ten 2012 recruiting class, or the eminent graduation of top pro prospect of the last decade – it wasn't that long ago that Stanford football was an afterthought.

On December 19, 2006, new athletic director Bob Bowlsby hired Jim Harbaugh, a former star quarterback, but an unproven coach who had never worked at the FBS level. The rest, as they say, was history.

We are pleased present Stanford football's 40 most memorable moments, trends, games and personalities from the magical five-plus years that followed that December 2006 announcement.

8. Andrew Luck returns
QB shocks nation with decision

Stanford's 40-12 Orange Bowl romp of Virginia Tech was spectacular. The Cardinal's 27-0 second half whipping of the Hokies, in fact, might have constituted the 30 most glorious moments in the history of the program. Still, despite the grandeur of an unstoppable, formation-shifting Andrew Luck-to-tight-end assault, there was still a sense of unease surrounding the faithful.

Orange Bowl domination was awesome, but would this be it for the elite era of Stanford football?

Would Jim Harbaugh, the savior of the program who had been surrounded by dozens of job rumors for over a year, bolt to Michigan or the NFL? Would Andrew Luck, "The Truth," follow him out the door? Had the clock run out on Stanford's 15 minutes of fame?

Harbaugh didn't reassure anyone by declining most major postgame interviews in Miami and staying out of the spotlight of the jubilant Orange Bowl celebration. So, with Stanford's immediate future uncertain, the rumor mill only started spinning faster. Fans braced for the worst: a Harbaugh- and Luck-less 2012.

Then, very casually, Andrew announced that he would be a Stanford man for one more year, until graduation. No Heritage Hall scheduled press conference for the TV cameras, ala USC's Matt Barkley. No roomful of boosters cheering his decision. Just a single, simple statement from one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever:

"I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design from Stanford University and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring quarter of 2012."

There it was. Perhaps the greatest student-athlete ever just wanted to get his diploma and play college football with his buddies. Just like that, the Cardinal camp's unease evaporated. Fans, still high off Orange Bowl success, were now downright giddy.

Luck knew that he was planning to stay all along to finish his degree. But the mainstream media's fixation with the false fact that no one in their right mind could turn down the money and glamor of the NFL No. 1 draft position had confused the prognosis of many.

For Luck, another year of the Stanford experience was worth more than the $22 million the NFL was offering. It was even worth the risk of exposure to another year of potential amateur injury.
And despite two unceremonious blemishes on the 2012 slate against Oregon and Oklahoma State, Andrew Luck did not regret his decision to return to Stanford for his senior year.

The decision's naysayers had their laughs at Luck's expense. But, in the end, the man ended up the No. 1 pick anyway in the subsequent draft, and he had a Stanford degree and the status of a college football legend to go along with it.

Previous
50-41. More memorable moments - Loukas, Luck, and a phantom clipping call
40. Fake out - Luck stuns UW with a naked bootleg in 2010
39. Polls and bowls - Stanford climbs into college football's beauty contests
38. Steamrolled - Card run for 446 yards in 2011 beatdown of UW
37. Opening act - 2009 win over Ducks launches a November to remember
36. Going bowling - Loss to Sooners doesn't ruin first bowl game since 2001
35. "Shut up and play football" - Cal jaws pregame, falls behind 45-0 in 2010
34. Look ma, no legs - Luck throws a 52- yard dart while in free fall
33. Sit down - Burfict's head leads to go-ahead TD, Wilkerson's ices W at ASU
32. Injury bug - Despite multiple injuries, 2011 Card manage to rally
31. Whale watching - Stanford starts recruiting at an elite level
30. Suck for Luck - The media machine anoints the next football savior
29. Outta my way - Luck bounces off Cattouse for a 50-yard run
28. 0 for 3 - Card post three shutouts in 2010 campaign
27. Laying the wood - Luck lays out Wright
26. Concussed - Owusu is knocked out of four games
25. Jumping ahead - A 21-3 lead vanishes in Autzen in 2010
24. So close, yet so far - Luck's worst game costs Card 2009 Big Game
23. Run, Toby, run - Gerhart takes over against the Irish
22. Xs and Os… and Ys and Zs - Stanford toys with defensive coordinators
21. "The perfect football player" - Marecic makes purists weep
20. Rumor Mill - Report: Harbaugh to take every NFL job
19. "What's Your Deal?" - Stanford hands 'SC worst home beatdown ever
18. Continuity Unknown to Mankind - Shaw named Harbaugh's successor
17. Whitaker Beats USC - Cardinal hand the Trojans another soul-crusher
16. We've Got the Axe - Stanford wins first Big Game in six years
15. Return of the Red Zone - Cardinal students populate the stadium in force
14. Blown Away - Stanford takes VT to the woodshed in Orange Bowl
13. Streaking - Stanford wins 10 straight games by 25+ points
12. Dance With Girl Who Brung Ya - Card settle for FG attempt, loses Fiesta Bowl
11. College Gameday to The Farm - Campus welcomes ESPN
10. Thanks, John - Card build new stadium, enter arms race
9. The Stanford-USC rivalry - Stanford takes four of five in thrilling fashion

David Lombardi, a TV and radio (95.7 The Game SF) personality in the Bay Area, is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years. You can check out several of his Stanford calls and other writing at www.davidlombardisports.com.


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