For Luck, the long-term plan is long-term health

The sports world shared a collective shock last weekend when word came out that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was planning to retire at the age of 29.

Luck, one of the most-revered and highly-touted prospects to ever enter the National Football League when he was drafted out of Stanford with the first pick of the 2012 draft, cited the physical and emotional rigors of playing in the NFL, and rehabbing injuries, as the crux of his decision to hang up his cleats. 

“For the last four years or so I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab; injury, pain rehab. And it’s been unceasing and unrelenting, both in-season and off-season,” said Luck. “I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.”

It’s kind of sad, right? Andrew Luck played this game since he was a kid, starred in the crazy-competitive world of Texas high school football, then arrived at Stanford as the “chosen one,” with the golden arm, mature personality and extreme intelligence that makes coaches drool. He then went on to meet or exceed all the expectations thrust upon him and was expected to be the first pick in the 2011 draft.

Luck then showed the nation why he was a little different from a lot of the “jocks” that came before him. He put his professional football career on hold so he could finish up his degree in architectural design. A substantial injury that following year at Stanford could have cost him millions. He knew that. We all knew that.

But Luck always had other interests than football, and earning that degree was important to him. 

Let the record show that he made it through that next season unscathed, did absolutely nothing to tarnish his image and did indeed become the first pick of the Colts, taking on the unenviable task of replacing Colts legend Peyton Manning at the quarterback position. That was a tough spot to be put in, as Manning reached near-deity status in Indianapolis, but Luck paid homage to Manning publicly, remained humble, worked hard and became the superstar that many had pegged him to be since he was a teenager.

He led the Colts to the playoffs as a rookie, led a remarkable comeback to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs in his second year and squared off against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game his third season. The arrow was pointing up for Luck.

Then, in the 2015 season, Luck missed the first two games of the year with a shoulder surgery. Her returned and played until November, when it was announced he would miss time with a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle. He never made it back that season.

He missed a game in the 2016 season with a concussion, then had another surgery to repair his right shoulder, which had been hurting him since the season before. He ended up missing the entire 2017 season with that injury, and went to Europe to try additional treatments to get back to playing. Many feared that Andrew Luck would never play again.

But he did, and led the Colts back to prominence last year, earning his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl and being named National Football League Comeback Player of the Year.

Guess what happened next? Go ahead. That’s right. Luck had another injury, this one to his lower leg. Heartbroken and frustrated, Luck decided to call it a career, and his retirment was leaked as his Colts were playing a preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Word made it through the stadium, and Colts fans booed Luck as he walked off the field with his teammates, forcing him to hold a post-game press conference.

Maybe worse than the booing was some of the criticism Luck received for stepping away from the game from people who weren’t personally invested in the team as Colts fans are. Doug Gottlieb, a Fox Sports personality, tweeted: “Retiring cause rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millenial thing ever #AndrewLuck.”

Gottlieb, by the way, left the Notre Dame basketball team after the 1995-96 season because he stole a classmate’s credit card and charged items with it, so, you know, he actually stole from another human being.

Luck had universal respect as a quarterback and $97.1 million in earnings through his first seven years in the NFL, according to Spotrac, as relayed by CNBC. According to Colts owner Jim Irsay, the man who cut those big checks, Luck could have earned another $450 million throughout the rest of his career had injuries not claimed his health and love of the game. In fact, Luck reportedly walked away from $58.1 million on his current contract by retiring now.

Instead, Luck chose his physical well-being and a chance at a normal life, without pain. 

It’s his choice. Only his. I wish him well in the future.