Nov. 11, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - On the other end of the phone line, Mario Bailey was smiling.
"You made my day," he said.
Halfway across the United States, Dominic Kinnear felt the same way, also eager to reciprocate the support he once received.
The common thread between Bailey, a former pro football receiver and now a social worker in Seattle, and Kinnear, a pro soccer coach in Houston, is Andrew Luck. The Stanford quarterback, commonly regarded as the best college football player in the country, used to cheer for them. Now, they're cheering for him.
Before Luck arrived at Stanford, he lived mostly in Frankfurt, Germany, and Houston. And in those environments, Luck developed into the athlete and person he is today.
When Oliver and Kathy Luck and one-year-old Andrew moved from the United States to Germany in 1991, it was for cultural reasons as much as for Oliver's new job as general manager of the World League of Professional Football's Frankfurt Galaxy.
Oliver's mother left Germany after World War II, and he and his three siblings spent summers at their grandmother's house in Karlsruhe, in southwest Germany. And Kathy, a native Texan, was familiar with overseas living as the daughter of an oil executive.
"I thought it would be fun," said Oliver, now the athletic director at West Virginia University. "Not really knowing if we would stay one or two years, we stayed 10."
The Lucks lived in Dusseldorf for a time, but spent most of those years in Frankfurt, and the final three in London when Oliver became president of the rechristened NFL Europe.
While football-loving kids in the United States followed the likes of Troy Aikman and the Dallas Cowboys or John Elway and the Denver Broncos, Andrew was a fan of Bailey and the Galaxy.
The Galaxy was Europe's model franchise. In fact, a case can be made that Frankfurt's success at the gate, and on the field, kept the league alive. Frankfurt played in the World Bowl seven times and won four titles. At the center of that success was Bailey.
While most players came for a season or two, Bailey stayed for six and became the league's all-time receiving leader, catching passes from the likes of Jake Delhomme and Damon Huard. His play, along with his longevity, made him a Galaxy crowd favorite and the most recognizable football player in Europe.
"I've been to a lot of stadiums in a lot of cities," said Bailey, who also played for the University of Washington and the Houston Oilers. "But those Frankfurt fans were the best I've ever seen. They'd tailgate hours before the game and hours after it. In the NFL, I'd compare it to Kansas City, but even better. I've never seen anything like it."
Count the Lucks among them.
"We'd get there seven hours early," Andrew said. "And just hang out all day."
Living in Europe provided experiences Andrew never could have received otherwise. When he was old enough, his dad began to take him on weekends around the continent.
They would watch a football game in places like Barcelona, Glasgow, and Amsterdam, and then play tourist.
"The great thing about Europe is it's so small and so easy to get around," Oliver said. "When they (Andrew and sister Mary Ellen, now a Stanford volleyball player) were little kids, we went on some beautiful trips."
That might mean a weekend in Paris, or on the beaches of Sitges, Spain, outside of Barcelona. Or a ski trip to the Alps.
"We hiked up Ben Lomond," said Oliver of Scotland's 3,197-foot mountain. "Andrew wasn't very big, and it was so windy, I had to hold on to him so he wouldn't get blown over the edge."
"I thought it would be fun. Not really knowing if we would stay one or two years, we stayed 10."
Luck grew up playing soccer and basketball while attending American schools in Europe. He didn't play organized football until moving to Houston in fifth grade, when he was coached by his dad.
"In Frankfurt, I remember playing football," Andrew said. "They wouldn't let us play tackle football, like all the elementary schools. But we played on the playground."
Oliver credits Andrew's soccer background with helping with his footwork as a quarterback.
"He'd be happy even today living in Frankfurt and watching soccer three days a week," Oliver said.
The Lucks eventually felt it was time to return to the United States and Oliver helped bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Houston as CEO of the Houston Sports Authority -- a perfect opportunity for Andrew to continue to follow the sport, and his father became president of the team.
Luck was such a fan of the Houston Dynamo, that he once arrived at a Stanford press conference while wearing the No. 24 jersey of heretofore unknown defender Wade Barrett.
On Oct. 29, Kinnear sat in a hotel room in Philadelphia, temporarily taking his mind off one game to watch another.
As coach of the Dynamo, Kinnear had a playoff match the next day. But, for now, his eyes were transfixed on a television set as he watched Luck guide Stanford to a thrilling triple-overtime victory over USC.
Kinnear couldn't help but feel a sense of pride. He had coached Houston to a pair of championships when Andrew was in high school and recalled how Andrew and his buddies would show up to soccer games shirtless and with their chests painted to spell out D-Y-N-A-M-O.
In turn, Kinnear and some of his players sometimes went to Luck's high school football games, and cheered him on -- but without the chest paint.
Yet, the boy Kinnear knew had grown up.
"To see him in high school, he was good," Kinnear said. "But you just never knew how good he could be. And then to see him against USC... That was awesome."
The Dynamo indeed won and advanced to the next round. But Kinnear, whom Andrew deferentially called, "Coach," hadn't forgotten the football game he saw the night before and felt compelled to send Luck an e-mail.
"I just watched your game," Kinnear wrote to Luck. "I just wanted to say how proud I was to watch you play." Within hours, Luck responded in kind, happy to hear from "Coach" Kinnear and wishing the Dynamo the best of luck in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Bailey was informed that Luck called him his favorite player.
"Tell him I'm watching," Bailey said. "And tell him, I've got a smile on my face."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics