LOPRESTI: Lots of questions linger in wake of Luck’s retirement

“The only way I see out is to no longer play football. ... I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live," Andrew Luck said at a press conference Saturday night. (AP photo)

On the night the Earth stood still in Indianapolis—it’s not often you see an entire city’s jaw drop to the floor—there were moist eyes and breaking voices in the Colts interview room. But no simple or pat answers to explain this decision, made by a young man in pain.

There is much to wonder about, as Andrew Luck heads for the exit.

You wonder what the moment of truth really was—the restless night or the achy day when he decided football had become too much. You wonder what the results would be if you could take an MRI of his psyche. How a man could go from Comeback Player of the Year and the Pro Bowl to the retirement list in under seven months, at the age of 29. How a sore calf begat a sore ankle, which begat the last straw. In Saturday night’s emotion-drenched press conference, Luck used descriptions such as joy and rewarding and fun to describing 2018. That was only last season. But he had come to make his farewell, certain the joy was gone.

You wonder if this is a big bay window into the cost of playing modern football. Luck called it the greatest team sport in the world, but the physical demands of the game had apparently chewed him up and spit him out, sapping his spirit to play before he was 30. He was worn down, he admitted, in the head and in the body. How much do we ask of those who play the game, and how much must they give? It made you look at Tom Brady, still stacking Super Bowl titles in his 40s, with a new layer of amazement. Luck is gone at 29. Brady has thrown 452 touchdown passes in the season and postseason since turning 29.

You wonder how Saturday night turned so surreal, the bombshell going off while Luck was down on the sidelines with his soon-to-be-former teammates, who were busy playing the Chicago Bears. It spread through Lucas Oil Stadium like a summer grass fire in California. Who says nothing important happens at preseason games? What did the Colts know, and when did they know it, and how did it become breaking news at such a bizarre time?

You wonder if the fools in the stands who booed Luck as he walked off the field are ashamed today. They should be. “I’ll be honest,” he said later. “It hurt.” Indy crowds do not often have ugly moments, but this one was especially sickening.

You wonder if he meant it Saturday night. Standing at the microphone, calling it the hardest decision of his life, the composure that seldom wavered against NFL past rushes turned wobbly, as he tried to explain the journey that led to this. He thanked nearly every living, breathing soul in the Colts building. He seemed at peace, but then again, he said something about not being able to see the future. If a year from now, he is pain free and he picks up a football and it feels so right in his hand and his Sundays seem so empty, what happens then? Michael Jordan unretired twice. Or is the joy gone forever, playing a position where the x-ray machine is always one blown block away?

You wonder when the last time an athlete shocked the sports world like this with the screeching of the brakes on his career. Jordan Retirement I in 1993 perhaps, but you had the feeling the day he left that he’d be back. Magic Johnson comes to mind in 1992, when he announced he had tested HIV positive. For going out at the top of his game in the NFL, there was running back Jim Brown. For a star in his prime years, grown too weary from the constant pain to go on, pitcher Sandy Koufax. Both Brown and Koufax were 30. Johnson and Jordan returned. They never did.

You wonder why punches in the gut keep happening to Indianapolis this decade. Peyton Manning’s Colts career cut short. Awful injuries to Paul George and Victor Oladipo. Now this. The other shoe keeps dropping, and they have so often been worn by the city’s brightest stars.

You wonder if it has really been only seven years since the Colts parted with Manning, drafted Andrew Luck and settled back for another legendary and gilded quarterback career. More Super Bowls, for certain. More hardware for the horseshoe. Now that era is over, before it ever touched full potential. Before we ever found out what it could be.

You wonder where the Colts go from here, after this piano has been dropped on their heads 15 days before the season opener. The high command vowed good times are still ahead. The roster is too talented, and Jacoby Brissett is more than capable at quarterback. We’ll see. The fact remains, it has been 24 years, nearly a quarter-century, since the Colts won a playoff game with a quarterback not named Manning or Luck.

You wonder about the gone-too-soon desolation a young man must feel, when he stands before the world and says, “The only way I see out is to no longer play football. … I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live.”

He called it coming to “proverbial fork in the road,” and he decided to take the exit ramp less traveled. Not a lot of players go that direction at his age. In the end, you wonder if that is the biggest message of all from this drama—that here was an unusual athlete who understood there are other things he wanted out of life, understood it well enough to leave. He might love football, but it claims its victims, and he aims not to be one of them, no matter how much money must be left on the table. No, this was not your garden variety shocker. “I have a lot of clarity in this,” he mentioned. He kept repeating that word. Clarity. Time will tell if such clarity is permanent.

A man’s life, a franchise’s future—we saw them change Saturday night. You wonder about what just happened, and what comes next.

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12 thoughts on “LOPRESTI: Lots of questions linger in wake of Luck’s retirement

  1. Booing him yesterday was completely acceptable. He took $10s of millions of our money. He quit on his clients (the fans) one week before the season. This wasn’t a flip decision. He’s obviously been thinking about it for a while. Why not before the draft. Or mini-camp.

    I have a massive talent, but I’m tired. Insert any profession. There is a personal responsibility to be accountable to your employer and your clients (fans). He’s stolen the franchise money and left us holding the bag. Disappointing. I am zero percent compelled to feel sorry for him. At least Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson retired from a crappy franchise. Luck is leaving a Super Bowl contender, a beautifully built young team, with no respect for any teammates. Suck it up for one more year. Give the franchise a warning. And, maybe even win a Super Bowl. I’m disgusted.

    1. Luck gave his body and soul to the team each and every season. The former GM and Owner failed Luck by surrounding him with a poor offensive line in the early years which greatly contributed to his body breaking down. Luck also contributed to his own injuries by playing with a reckless style preferring to stand in the pocket and take big hits or scramble on plays without learning how to slide. It finally caught up to him. At the end of the day, football is not like any other job where someone can just “quit on his clients”. Other jobs (short of military/police service and perhaps a few others) don’t require that you sacrifice your body, mind and spirit to the level of professional football players. The sport is violent and causes life altering injuries (remember former Colts WR Austin Collie who had to retire after multiple concussions in the same season?) that often ruin a players’s quality of life. The team will rally behind Coach Frank, an amazing coach, who will find a way to make the Colts a contender this season and beyond. And Luck can happily move on to the rest of his life, follow new dreams and achieve great success in any professional field his chooses. Best of Luck, Andrew, and thank you for the great memories! Go Colts!

    2. Wow! It’s a game for God’s sake. Know more about the people playing it than just their value to the sport. Andrew Luck used that game to get an education. He’s actually an architect. If the game is so important that your willing to humiliate someone who played it because they’ve decided to move on, you may want to re calibrate how much importance you are putting into a GAME. I know we’ve turned this game into a BIG business and invested a lot of capital in it, but it’s still just a game. It may be time for all of us to re-examine why we put so much importance into these games. Life, after all, is not a game.

  2. Whoever or whatever you are, Ryan H is a clear lens to what is wrong with the way our society is drifting. Mean spirited, selfish and in the name of what? Watching football? At least Luck has principle. And dignity.

    1. Craig V noted that Andrew Luck is an Architect. Of that I am not sure. He did graduate from Stanford with a professional degree in architecture. He may have his license by now but if so I have not heard this. I am sure he would make a good one. Maybe he wants to actually practice architecture and this was his way to get started. Being an architect myself, I am sure even with the potential to make millions, someone serious enough to go through the strenuous process of gaining a degree from Stanford and the even more strenuous process of getting certified, architecture would still be a temptation. I guess we have to mark this up to uncontrollable misfortune. It is simply yet another catastrophe to fall on the Colts and our fans. Hopefully we can recover. We have no choice.

  3. Why don’t the fans have the right to boo? Most of them had tickets to that game that they had to purchase as part of a season ticket package, and I wonder how many would have opted out had they been given a choice? Add to that the fact that Colts had already announced that none of the starters would be playing. What would the attendance have been if these tickets were sold on a single game basis at regular season game prices? Then they had to find out that their starting QB was out the door without even a formal announcement? (“Three yard gain for the Bears, bringing up 2nd and 7, and Andrew Luck has just retired.”)
    Finally, this is the THIRD time that the Colts have had their starting QB come to camp with a relatively minor injury (supposedly) and every indication was given to the media and the fans that the QB (Manning first, then Luck twice) would be ready to start the season, and now this will be THREE times that the QB will have missed the ENTIRE season! Has that ever happened to another team even ONCE, let alone THREE times?
    The Colts have never been honest when dealing with injuries; in fact, they have, at times, been downright deceitful.

  4. I’d be more worried about the source inside the Colts organization that leaked the news to ESPN during the game, leading to the booing. Chris Ballard can’t be pleased with that…

  5. Fare Thee Well Andrew Luck!
    Going to leave this brokedown palace,
    On my hand and knees, I will roll, roll, roll.
    Make myself a bed in the waterside,
    In my time, I will roll, roll roll.
    For you the world of football has been loving and generous, and mean and hurtful. Hits like car crashes, blood, broken body parts, anesthesia, surgery, pain, delay, unknowing and unfair criticism, have taken away the fun.
    You have left the palace. Thank you, and best wishes.
    Thank you for what gave us and thank you for setting an example of moving on in life – doing what you want to do – doing what is best for you – and not what others wanted you to do. Far and wide your example will spread inspiring others to do likewise.
    Thank you for the years of success, joy, optimism, great attitude, toughness, grit and determination. Thank you for involvement in public television encouraging youth to read – books!
    Far too often in this life we cling to what has lost meaning. Why? Inertia? To please others? There is no shortage of excuses for not changing – for doing what others believe you should do. For many there is little choice. Parents working a job they hate to support a family indeed may have few options. Your example will inspire us all to look a little harder and more closely at the options, however few or far between.
    The bindings of money, fame, adulation, duty, and obligation are tight, indeed. You have freed yourself. Free to enjoy the wonders of many new worlds beginning with your young marriage and baby on the way!
    When my son, a pretty good baseball player, decided it was over and he was through with baseball, it was devastating – to me. It took me a while to understand how selfish of me that was. Indeed, he has moved on to other great successes and adventures; and they continue. It is his life. At a tender age he understood that better than I did. As do you. And no doubt the results for you will be many great successes, some setbacks, and maybe even a belly flop or two.
    River going to take me, sing sweet and sleepy,
    Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home.
    It’s a far gone lullaby, sung many years ago.
    Mama, mama many worlds I’ve known since I first left home.
    The lesson is simple and clear. Move on when life is not working, you’ve given it your best shot; and you can maintain your real obligations in life. The journey is short. After all, it is your life. Control it. Captain your ship. This is the essence of freedom.
    Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell,
    Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock your soul.
    Andrew Luck, I wish to you and yours all the best this life has to offer. And, I’m sure you Dad will get over it after an appropriate period of mourning.

    Pete Donahoe

    *- All lyrical references to “Brokedown Palace,” by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, with apologies for minor changes.

  6. I’ve already tired of the fans being blamed for booing. Would seem a very obvious reaction to fans finding out on their phones while at a pre-season game, when Colts management led everyone in the city to believe Andrew’s injury was minor and that he would be playing this season. What other reaction could they possibly have had? The reaction was as much to the Colts organization, who obviously leaked the story. What a horrible way to tell people who’ve invested money into tickets for the season.

    Additionally, I don’t believe the majority of people begrudge Andrew for retiring in the slightest. We realize that athletes have families and other interests and don’t want to spend year after year being injured and rehabbing. We realize he had given all he had for seven years, and most of us wish him nothing but the best.

    This seems obvious to me, but apparently not those who continue to unnecessarily defend him…..the majority of people are not upset about his decision to retire, but rather at the timing of the decision? Had he retired at the close of last season or at the end of this season, the organization would have been able to properly prepare for the next year and those who have invested a small fortune in season tickets over the last multiple months would have been able to make an informed decision as to whether or not spend their hard earned money. Will the Colts organization be offering those who purchased season tickets since the end of last season, a refund? I highly doubt it. Let’s have the media ask that question.

    I wish Andrew Luck nothing but good things. I just wish this would have been handled better. There could have been less casualties all the way around.