Scott Fowler

Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and what might have been

During Carolina’s dismal 2010 season, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh were the dreams who provided hope for some Panthers fans.
During Carolina’s dismal 2010 season, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh were the dreams who provided hope for some Panthers fans. AP

There has only been one season among the Carolina Panthers’ 21 that I have dreaded going to cover the games, and that was in 2010.

That was the season of awful quarterback Jimmy Clausen and of lame-duck coach John Fox. That was the season of 2-14 and a Panthers team that scored 10 points or fewer in exactly half of its games.

What does this have to do with the Monday night game between Carolina and Indianapolis? Hang on, I’m getting there.

There was hope for those Panthers, because they were going to have the No. 1 draft pick – presumed to be a quarterback – and they also were going to be in the market for a coach. In January 2011, Stanford had a great one in each category – quarterback Andrew Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Observer sent me to the Orange Bowl, where Stanford was playing, to write long stories about each of them. Luck was back then what he is now – rifle-armed, smart and self-deprecating. But he didn’t want to leave Stanford’s warm cocoon, and a few days after that Orange Bowl, he said he wasn’t entering the 2011 draft (he said then and now that it had nothing to do with Carolina holding the No. 1 pick).

I still remember interviewing Luck about his time at Stanford and him mentioning certain professors by name who he enjoyed – you don’t hear that very often from college athletes.

Harbaugh did leave, of course, bolting for the NFL and San Francisco (and later bolting again for Michigan).

I feel pretty certain that Carolina would have picked Luck at No. 1 if he had left school early. But all ended well for Carolina, with the team drafting Cam Newton and hiring Ron Rivera as coach. And now Newton and Luck – first and second in the 2010 Heisman Trophy balloting – will play against each other for the first time in the NFL.

▪ If the Panthers are ever going to pile up some offensive numbers, this would be the week. Indianapolis is dead last in total yardage allowed this season (408 per game).

▪ Please, please, I want to see Josh Norman cover T.Y. Hilton all over the field. What a matchup.

▪ Panthers fans still remember that Adam Vinatieri, now the Colts’ kicker, beat Carolina with a 41-yard field goal in Carolina’s only Super Bowl. What I had forgotten was Vinatieri had missed field-goal attempts from 31 yards (wide right) and 36 (blocked) in that game.

▪ I might be a slow learner, but even I can’t pick against the Panthers this week – not the way they are playing. My pick: Carolina 33, Indianapolis 20.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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