Jim Harbaugh recruited Luck to Stanford and mentored him for three seasons before taking over the 49ers in January. He echoes Allen. "The cool thing about Andrew," Harbaugh says, "is that he makes himself small, and builds up everybody else around him. Of course, by doing that, he makes himself huge."
Long before he helped fill stadiums, Luck was smitten by them. His interest in architecture was spawned overseas. His father, Oliver, now the athletic director at West Virginia, played quarterback for the Mountaineers from 1978 through '81, setting school records for career touchdown passes, yards and completions. In his final year in Morgantown he won the Louis D. Meisel Award, given to the student-athlete with the highest grade point average.
To understand how the son could walk past a stack of cash totaling in the tens of millions and think to himself, "Hmmm, maybe later," it helps to read the résumés of his parents. A second-round draft pick of the Houston Oilers in 1982, Oliver played five seasons in the NFL. During that time, he earned his law degree, cum laude, from Texas—taking many of his classes at night, during the NFL season. His wife, Kathy, also earned her Juris Doctor at Texas, having already received a master's in social work from the school. Says Oliver, "We've tried to teach our kids that it's fun to stretch your mind, to challenge yourself intellectually."
When his football career ended, Oliver did a yearlong legal fellowship with the government of what was then West Germany. His mother, Gisela Steppuhn Luck, is a native German who moved to the U.S. after World War II. Oliver visited that country frequently while growing up and came to speak the language fluently. In 1990, when the NFL launched the European-based World League of American Football, or WLAF—"One of the more unfortunate acronyms in history," Oliver says with a smile—he was quickly hired as general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy. He, Kathy and one-year-old Andrew moved to Germany.
By 1998, Andrew had three siblings: Mary Ellen is now a sophomore at Stanford and a defensive specialist on the women's volleyball team; Emily will be a senior at Morgantown High; and Addison, Andrew's little brother, is entering the eighth grade. How often does Andrew see Mary Ellen on campus? "Whenever she needs my car."
The young family traveled extensively in Europe. It was nothing for the Lucks to hop on the autobahn and "spend the weekend in Paris, drive down to the Alps or the Riviera or London," says Oliver. "We had no idea what the kids were absorbing. But in retrospect, Andrew must have spent a lot of time looking at the buildings."
Stadiums in particular. In '95 Oliver became the president of WLAF, which would eventually become NFL Europe, and moved the family to London. They lived just a five-minute commute from Arsenal soccer club's since-closed Highbury Stadium, a stylish, ancient venue, which Andrew recalls as a "beehive set down in a residential area."
He saw games in London's old Wembley Stadium (since razed) and at Düsseldorf's horseshoe-shaped Rheinstadion, among others. "For the longest time, in middle school and high school, I wanted to build stadiums," Luck says. "I was infatuated with them."
He remains so. That becomes apparent when he recalls a recent trip to Seattle with Oliver. After taking in a Sounders soccer game at Qwest Field, they walked over to neighboring Safeco Field to watch the Mariners. "That part of Seattle is industrial," Luck recalls, "and the design of both stadiums—all the strong lines, very powerful, all the truss work—was just perfect for the area."
When the design of a stadium leaves him underwhelmed, he's far too tactful to say so. Usually. "Historically, it's very interesting," he says of Notre Dame Stadium. Yes, but what of its design? "It's a bowl."