His fairy tale ended in a blink, a dream season stolen by a blur.
On a cool Saturday evening before a roaring throng at Stanford Stadium and a national TV audience, No. 3 Stanford and its star quarterback, Andrew Luck, simply evaporated under the swift and relentless attack of sixth-ranked Oregon.
Gone are the Cardinal's aspirations of reaching the BCS Championship Game, No. 1 on the list of reasons Luck spurned the 2011 NFL draft and returned for this season.
Gone, too, is Luck's firm grip on the Heisman Trophy. It wasn't his goal, but it's a gorgeous trophy that is coveted, at the very least, as memorabilia.
Though this 53-30 loss not only banished Stanford's unbeaten season and probably punctured its psyche, but it also laid some blemishes upon Luck.
Justifiably identified as the practically perfect college quarterback and the NFL's platinum prospect, Luck suddenly was stripped of his fabulous gifts.
Confronting the biggest moment of his storied collegiate career, a titanic battle in college football's marquee game of the weekend, Luck failed to summon his best. Though there was no questioning his desire, his opportunity to validate months of breathless praise came and went at the speed of light.
Asked to assess his performance, Luck was brief and candid and unsparing.
"Not good enough to win," he said. "Worst game of the year, I guess."
The Ducks (9-1, 7-0 in the Pac-12) were too quick for the Cardinal -- on both sides of the ball. When Luck wasn't anxiously watching Oregon's offense sprint and dance through Stanford's defense, he was taking the field and receiving his own punishment from a relentless front seven.
Luck was harassed constantly and sacked twice, for 28 yards. He threw two interceptions, the first of which led directly to Oregon's first touchdown, and the last of which linebacker Boseko Lokombo returned 40 yards for the touchdown that punctuated the scoring and provided the final indignity.
"Defensively, they did a good job with stunts and blitzes," Luck said. "Yeah, (there was) some pressure from the stunts, but I thought the O-line did a good enough job for me to get some balls out there."
That's at least partially true. Luck (27-of-41, 271 yards) threw some regrettable passes. And his receivers dropped at least five throws that should have been caught. It was as if parts of the Cardinal's pass offense melted under the glare of the national spotlight.
Then again, the drops still might not have been enough to offset Stanford's lack of speed at even those positions in which it often is a requirement.
Like, for example, wide receiver. The Cardinal coaching staff, fully aware of this, spent most of this season building its passing game around Luck and the size/speed blend of its three tight ends. That, along with Luck and a stellar run game, had produced enough offense to make Stanford the third-highest scoring team in the country.
The Cardinal, however, is down to two tight ends, having lost Zach Ertz two weeks against at USC. One week later, at Oregon State, they also lost Chris Owusu, the team's fastest wide receiver.
What was left of Stanford's pass offense was no match on this night for an Oregon defensive unit that buzzed and flitted and played as if its hair was on fire.
"They took advantage of our turnovers," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "We got turnovers and didn't turn them into points. That's the bottom line.
"You play against a team with that kind of speed, that kind of talent, that's as well-coached as they are, and you turn the ball over, you can't win."
No, you lose. The team loses its perfect record. The quarterback loses the "S" on his chest, along with the chance to fulfill his immediate ambition.
Stanford (9-1, 7-1 in the Pac-12) is but a team, a very good one, but hardly invincible.
Luck is but a quarterback, an outstanding one, but on this night certainly not magical.
Pro personnel types will study video of this loss to Oregon and Stanford's overtime win at USC. They will conclude Luck is vulnerable against elite athletes, which is the standard in the NFL.
They'll wonder how much better he'd be with a pair of dangerous wideouts.
They'll still love him and want to have him. But they'll know he is mortal.
Contact Monte Poole at email@example.com.