Some N.F.L. Fans Want Andrew Luck Later, Not Wins Now

The Dolphins (0-4), who play the Jets on Monday night and are one of three winless teams, are in a race for the bottom of the N.F.L. standings. But with ignominy this autumn comes glory next spring. There, for the team with the worst record and the first overall draft pick, awaits Andrew Luck, considered the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning.

While Luck, coveted for his accuracy and intelligence, at Stanford, he has inadvertently turned beleaguered followers of struggling N.F.L.’s teams on their heads. From Seattle to Miami, rather than root for a win, fans root for him. Their feelings are summed up in a coarse three-word rhyme that has given shape to Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and dozens of Web sites. It implores downtrodden teams, in essence, to play really, really poorly for Luck.

“When they played the Chargers, right before that, I thought, this is what I want as a fan,” Joseph said, referring to the Dolphins’ opponent before the bye. “It’s the first time I ever actively rooted for my team to lose. I was getting mad when the Chargers were making a mistake. It’s really bizarre. I still haven’t come to grips with how I’ll handle it when they play the Jets because I hate the Jets. But it’s big-picture stuff. We’re going to stink no matter what. I’d rather really stink and get the best prospect since Peyton than win four or five games” and a get a less favorable draft pick.

Joseph and others like him do not merely shrug when their teams lose; they want their teams to fold. Tanking in sports is hardly unheard of. The former No. 1 tennis player that he deliberately lost in the semifinals of the Australian Open one year because he did not want to face Boris Becker in the final. N.B.A. teams are regularly suspected of losing intentionally late in the season. And in 1988, Giants quarterback Phil Simms accused the 49ers of laying down like dogs after playoff-bound San Francisco lost its regular-season finale to the Rams, thereby eliminating the Giants, who had beaten the 49ers in recent postseasons.

That fans are rooting for a collapse — especially less than one-third of the way through the season — speaks to the appeal of Luck, who has consumed the N.F.L. even as he has flown somewhat under the college radar this season. The Cardinal will not play a highly anticipated game until Nov. 12 against Oregon. But even in what is expected to be a strong 2012 quarterback draft class, the ardor for Luck is not surprising. He would have almost certainly been the top pick if he had left Stanford last season. The fan campaign seems to have sprung up organically, before he announced that he would stay in college.

“I am aware of it,” said Luck, who becomes awkward and uncomfortable whenever the N.F.L. is brought up. “A couple of guys told me about it. I think it’s stupid. Simply put.”

The phenomenon of fans hoping their team gives up on the season is unlike anything the N.F.L. has seen, in part because Luck is the first consensus sure-bet prospect in the social media age. When John Elway was drafted in 1983, and when the debate raged about whether Manning or Ryan Leaf was better in 1998, far fewer outlets fed fans’ thirst for information and speculation. And the anticipation of Luck’s arrival has been heightened by a record-threatening N.F.L. season proving that an elite quarterback is essential to success.

Luck has also spurred a curious twist on scoreboard watching. The Facebook page dedicated to fans’ interest in Luck called Seattle’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals a “minor setback” and encouraged fans to “stay strong.” When Miami quarterback Chad Henne sustained a season-ending shoulder injury and the Dolphins signed Sage Rosenfels, someone noted that the move was not going to help the Seahawks’ chances: “Henne is out and the Dolphins sign a guy who hasn’t thrown a pass since 2008. Way to mail it in, Miami!”

Joseph was delighted last Sunday when Seattle and Kansas City each won for the second time and Minnesota got its first victory because that could eliminate them as competition for the Dolphins. He does not seem to worry much about St. Louis, which used its first overall pick two years ago on Sam Bradford. Despite struggles this season, Bradford is considered a rising star. Although the Broncos have just one victory — and Elway scouted Luck from the sideline at Stanford, Elway’s alma mater — Denver fans seem more interested in whether Tim Tebow is a viable starter than whether he will torpedo any chance for Luck.

Pete Thamel contributed reporting.

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