By TOM JAMES
While it's doubtful that there will be any Welcome Home banners hanging from the rafters of Candlestick Park this afternoon when the Indianapolis Colts arrive to play the San Francisco 49ers (4:25 p.m., CBS Sports), there's a good chance that quarterback Andrew Luck, tight end Coby Fleener, safety Delano Howell and wide receiver Griff Whalen will be feeling a bit of nostalgia.
After all, that foursome went to college at nearby Stanford University in Palo Alto. Their coach at Stanford? How about 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. In fact, several former members of the Stanford coaching staff will be on the San Francisco sidelines as assistants to Harbaugh.
Luck and Harbaugh have both tried to play down any feel-good aspect to the pre-game hype. This is a business trip, after all. Maybe a few pre-game or post-game handshakes. Perhaps an extended chat during warm-ups.
Just ask Luck, Fleener, or Harbaugh about any college reunions and all you'll get in response are a few short responses. That's to be expected. They have been wearing their game faces all week long.
“It [their relationship] doesn’t concern me. [San Francisco's] defense concerns me,” the Colts quarterback said late last week. “It’s good enough that you don’t worry about anything else. [Harbaugh] definitely helped getting me on the right path to being a pro quarterback.”
As Luck allowed himself to think about his time playing for the 49ers coach, the memories started to come.
“Coach Harbaugh was great in a lot of aspects. Creating competition was one of the great things he did at Stanford. The way he created his program, it was competition in everything you do,” he recalled. “I took that to heart as a freshman. You have to compete at whatever spot you were on the depth chart, if you’re red-shirting, if you’re the starter. I tried to carry the ethos with me at Stanford and here.”
The coach, when pressed, let his guard down as well. He recalled when he first recruited the quarterback, who grew up in Houston, Texas, and the game he watched Luck play.
“He was playing for Stratford High School. Just pinpoint accuracy and great command of the offense, the team, his throws, his mechanics. He had a couple balls, one in particular that really stands out. He threw a post route to a receiver and hit the receiver in stride and then the ball somehow got almost flipped to the free safety who intercepted it. It was just one of the freakiest plays I’ve ever seen,” Harbaugh remembered. “I was sitting with Andrew’s dad, Oliver. I bet he recalls it as well. But we turned back and watched Andrew’s body language after that and that was really impressive. There was no sign of flinching or pounding or clapping his hands or anything like that. I remember him going over to the player and talking to him and just patting him on the hip and everything. Then that youngster made a couple nice plays after that. They ended up winning the game by a couple scores. But that always sticks out in my mind. Speaks volumes about Andrew.”
Oliver Luck, who played quarterback for several years in the National Football League, was in favor of his son playing for Harbaugh and heading to the west coast for college.
“I remember Andrew was a junior in high school and we were watching a game when the news flashed across that Jim Harbaugh was hired by Stanford,” he told Colts.com. “I remember saying to Andrew, ‘Hey, that’s kind of interesting. Stanford offers a great school academically. Boy, Coach Harbaugh could teach you a little about playing quarterback.’ I think it got Andrew to thinking a little bit. He [eventually] went out there for a [recruiting] trip.”
Harbaugh admits to having mixed feelings about today's game. Happy for the success of a former player. Not pleased about facing that player in a game situation.
“Yes, I knew [the time] would [come],” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘That will be a big challenge.’ Like a lot of the players that come out of college football in general, you can identify the really good ones and you figure you’ll be playing against them. That’s the way with 31 other teams getting their picks. As it relates to Andrew Luck, Griff Whalen, Coby Fleener and Delano Howell, that ended up being the case with all of them.”
The Colts quarterback was just happy for the opportunity to learn from Harbaugh.
“He was great, not only playing quarterback but growing up, being a college kid, the on- and off-the field stuff that comes with the position,” said Luck. “I feel very fortunate to have played under him three years. [I]learned a lot.”
His dad liked how things turned out too, even if it means the two squaring off on opposite sidelines today.
“Jim did a tremendous job. He really did,” Oliver Luck said. “I think he is one of the best coaches who works with quarterbacks, not a position coach but a guy who can work with quarterbacks. He is one of the best. He did a great job with Andrew. [Harbaugh] is very talented.”
The San Francisco coach isn't surprised by the younger Luck's early NFL success.
“That he would be this good? No, no surprise there,” Harbaugh said.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, 4:25 p.m. Sunday
Candlestick Park (Grass), San Francisco
• CBS Sports (Jim Nantz, Phil Sims)
• Colts Radio Network (Bob Lamey, Jim Sorgi, Matt Taylor)
• Sirius NFL Radio (Channel 85, Colts; Channel 86, 49ers. XM NFL Radio (Channel 86, 49ers).
• Colts: Chuck Pagano (12-6, 2nd year)
• 49ers: Jim Harbaugh (25-8-1, 3rd year).
Pagano has a 0-0 career coaching record against the Dolphins.
• 43rd regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 24-18.
• The Colts have won the past two meetings and three of the last five with San Francisco, But the 49ers have posted victories in seven of the last 10 matchups.
• Indianapolis posted a 28-3 win on 10/9/05 and an 18-14 decision on 11/1/09.
• As a franchise, the Colts are 14-7 against San Francisco in home games and 10-11 in away games. The last road win for the Colts occurred 10/9/05.
• The franchise has a 1-3 won-loss record at Candlestick/3Com/Monster Park. The series began in 1953. Former Indianapolis OLB Cato June had two interceptions, including a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown. Former running backs Dominic Rhodes and Edgerrin James each had touchdown passes. In the last meeting, WR Reggie Wayne caught a 22-yard halfback pass from RB Joseph Addai for the winning touchdown for the Colts. PK Matt Stover connected on field goals from 38, 33, 31 and 40 yards for Indianapolis.
• Both teams are 1-1 heading into this week’s game. Indianapolis lost 24-20 at home to the Dolphins. San Francisco dropped a 29-3 decision at Seattle.
THEY SAID IT
• Colts head coach Chuck Pagano on facing 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick: “We got a big challenge there as you know. So, we know all that stuff. We’ve seen it on tape. You got to do a great job of stopping the run and that’s much like Week 1. They’ve got an excellent back in Frank Gore and guys behind him. You got your base run and then you got the read option that you’ve got to take care of with Kaepernick. You’ve got to be disciplined. You’ve got to be focused. You’ve got to be on the same page. You’ve got to communicate. Guys got to be in the right spots. When he drops back to pass if it’s not there you know he can beat you scrambling around. You know, he can scramble to throw or scramble to run. We got to be very, very disciplined with our pass rush lane integrity. Then in the back end if he does break outside the pocket and start to scramble, we got to do a great job of plastering and sticking the guys in the back end so they don’t give up a free play.”
• Pagano on playing a team that is familiar with the Colts coaching staff and key players: “Well it can go both ways, because [49ers Defensive Coordinator] Vic [Fangio] and I worked together. Pep [Hamilton] was out there with both those guys, so it goes hand-in-hand. They’ve got some intel, we’ve got some intel, so there’s crossover everywhere with that. He knows the kid [Andrew Luck] very well, obviously. He knows his strengths and if he has any weaknesses, I’m sure he’ll try to exploit those. If there are any.”
• San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh on facing Andrew Luck/ Does his previous relationship with Luck help or hinder preparation for today's game?: “Just from our point of view, we’re familiar with Andrew, very familiar with him. But that doesn’t help you a lot because there’s no weaknesses. It keeps you up at night thinking about the possibilities
• San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick on Andrew Luck: “He’s very intelligent. Had a good time with him [at the Manning Passing Academy]. He’s a great quarterback. Was really impressed with what he did on the field.”
• QB Andrew Luck posted the seventh 300-yard passing game of his brief NFL career in last week’s loss to Miami.
• Since the start of the 2012 season, Luck has rushed for six touchdowns. That’s the most of any AFC quarterback during that time period.
• Luck played two seasons under current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. The quarterback led the school to 31 wins, the most ever by a Stanford signal caller. Harbaugh recruited Luck to the school.
• 49ers offensive Greg Roman was Luck’s position coach from 2009-10 at Stanford. ... Luck started 38 games at Stanford, completing 713-of-1,064 passes for 9,430 yards, 82 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
• TE Coby Fleener, WR Griff Whalen and S Delano Howell all played at Stanford under Harbaugh along with Luck.
• Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton served on Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff at Stanford. He served as wide receivers coach on Harbaugh’s Stanford 2010 team. Hamilton also served as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach in San Francisco during the 2006 season.
• Harbaugh played quarterback for Indianapolis from 1994-97, leading the franchise to the AFC title game in 1995 and earning the nickname of “Captain Comeback.”
• In 53 games with the Colts, he started 46 games and completed 746-of-1,230 passes for 8,705 yards and 49 touchdowns. Harbaugh earned Pro Bowl, Comeback Player of the Year and AFC Player of the Year honors after the 1995 season. He is a member of the Colts’ Ring of Honor at Lucas Oil Stadium (inducted in 2005).
• San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is a former defensive coordinator with the Colts (1999-01). Fangio was also Stanford’s defensive coordinator when Luck played there. Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was the San Francisco defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2010. Indianapolis defensive line coach Gary Emanuel was the 49ers defensive line coach from 2005-06.
• Colts DT Ricky Jean-Francois played for the 49ers from 2009 to 2012. OLB Cam Johnson played for San Francisco last season. ... Indianapolis CB Vontae Davis is the younger brother of San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis.
• RB Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown in his last regular-season game with the 49ers (while with the New York Giants on 10/14/12). Bradshaw made his first start with the Colts in last week’s loss to Miami.
• WR Reggie Wayne needs one touchdown in order to become the 11th player in NFL history with 13,000-plus receiving yards and 80 touchdown catches. ... Since 2001, Wayne has an NFL-best 13,205 receiving yards. ... Wayne has 12 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown in his last meeting with the 49ers (11/1/09). ... Wayne is averaging 118.2 yards in his past five meetings with NFC teams.
• WR T.Y. Hilton posted his sixth 100-yard receiving game of his career in last week’s loss to Miami (124 yards). Hilton had six receptions for 100 yards in his last game against an NFC opponent.
• OLB Robert Mathis has recorded five sacks in his past five games with NFC teams.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Since the start of the 2012 season, the Colts are 5-0 in games immediately following a loss. Indianapolis was one of four teams in the NFL (along with Atlanta, Green Bay and the 49ers) to not lose consecutive games all season.
STAT OF WEEK
• The Colts have posted a 24-10 won-loss record in the month of September since the start of the of 2003 season. That marks leads the NFL.
BY THE NUMBERS
• 4. The Colts are aiming for their fourth straight win over an NFC opponent.
• Be more consistent on both sides of the ball. Finish on offense. Better communication on defense. That, in a nutshell, is what the Indianapolis Colts have to do in order to be successful Sunday against the 49ers. That, in a nutshell, is what the Colts failed to do in last week’s home-field loss to Miami.
• Due to injuries at tight end, Indianapolis is expected to use more three-wide sets. And due to injuries along the offensive line, the Colts may not try to push the power running schemes and rely more on swing passes to the running backs.
• Defensively, Indianapolis needs to put together four solid quarters. That’s something that the Colts have yet to do this season. It won’t be easy against an offense that can move the ball and score points in a hurry.
• Colts QB Andrew Luck vs. 49ers pass rush. Luck was sacked 41 times last year and has been sacked seven times through the first two games this season. LB Aldon Smith and LB Patrick Willis have been outstanding at getting to the quarterback for San Francisco.
• 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick vs. Colts run defense. Indianapolis allowed 112 yards rushing to Oakland QB Terrelle Pryor in the team’s opening-season win over the Raiders. Kaepernick has rushed for 271 yards and three touchdowns in his last five home games. Since becoming the 49ers starter last season, he has rushed for 611 yards.