Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III spent most of their careers going head to head.
The two high-profile Texas prep stars were both recruited by Stanford, finished one-two in the 2011 Heisman Trophy race, went first and second in the 2012 NFL draft and were the top two vote-getters in the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year balloting.
Now, the 28-year-old quarterbacks find themselves in an odd place — rooting for each another’s comebacks.
“You know it seems like the combine was just yesterday,” Griffin said after the first of two joint practices on the final weekend of training camp.
“He’s always going to be the geeky guy and I’m always going to be the guy who wears the goofy socks.”
Maybe those sentiments sound strange coming from two guys who were supposed to join the long list of memorable rivals.
But fate, as it sometimes does, changed everything.
Instead of becoming fierce foes, Griffin and Luck developed a mutual admiration for each another’s work. They respect one another so much that Luck even took a moment during a brief stoppage at practice to jog over and give Griffin a hug.
“He’s a really good guy. He’s a Texas guy, so we have some links there,” Luck said earlier this week. “I got to know him at the Heisman and then the combine and draft. I’ve always been a big fan. Our families got to know each other a fair bit. I’m excited to see him.”
Much has changed since these two last threw passes on the same field, six years ago in one of the few highly anticipated preseason games, pitting the seemingly can’t-miss prospects.
Luck was considered the polished, establishment guy, who learned the game from his NFL-playing father, who was groomed in Stanford’s pro-style offense had a resume that resembled Peyton Manning’s.
Griffin was the flashy new guy with plenty of upside, legs that were supposed to be as difficult to stop as his arm, who could make any offense high octane and who took home four of college ‘s most prized trophies in 2011.
Both began with a bang.
Luck led the Colts to the playoffs each of his first three seasons, made the Pro Bowl each year and helped lead the Colts one step deeper in the playoffs each successive year, culminating with an AFC championship game appearance following the 2014 season.
Griffin countered by leading the Redskins to their first playoff appearance in five years, drawing praise from President Barack Obama and making the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Then things suddenly went awry.
Griffin sprained a ligament in his right knee in December 2012, but was cleared by doctors in time to return for the final two regular-season games and the playoff game against Seattle. During the fourth quarter of the loss to the Seahawks, Griffin’s knee gave out and he wound up needing surgery for two torn ligaments and a torn meniscus.
“I don’t think about the past because otherwise I can’t stay in the present,” Griffin said. “I’m a football player. If they tell me I can go, I’m going to go.”
He was never the same. Since starting 9-7, he is just 6-19 as a starter.
Griffin lost the starting spot in Washington three times over the next three seasons and finally signed with Cleveland in 2016, where he spent most of the season on injured reserve with a fractured bone in his left shoulder. He still holds the distinction as the most recent starting quarterback to lead the Browns to a victory on Dec. 24, 2016.
The Browns released Griffin in March 2017 — before he collected a $750,000 roster bonus — and he was out of football all of last season.
“It was hard, very hard,” Griffin said. “But the Ravens gave me an opportunity and I’m here to make the most of this opportunity.”
Luck, meanwhile, dealt with other obstacles.
He injured his right shoulder in the third game of the 2015 season, ending a starting streak of 57 consecutive games.
Luck finished his fourth pro season on injured reserve with a lacerated kidney, played through the continual pain in his right shoulder in 2016 then opted for surgery on a partially torn labrum in January 2017. The recovery cost him all of last season.
The Colts missed the playoffs all three of those years and now he’s finally back, looking to find his pre-surgery form.
“I know he was just hurting,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “When you miss that much football, you start questioning everything. For him to be back out here has to be a joy for him.”
Luck will continue lining up behind center for the second joint practice Saturday and likely for more than a quarter in Monday night’s game.
Griffin, meanwhile, is trying to restart his career by winning a job behind Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco and first-round draft pick and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, meaning Griffin and Luck could be watching each other’s comebacks.
“I’m always root for quarterbacks,” Griffin said. “I really hope he (Luck) comes back and not just to the level he was before but to the level the Colts expect.”
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