Andrew Luck looked beaten, worn out, fatigued. He sounded exhausted. He conceded, in what turned out to be perhaps the most bizarre postgame in NFL history, that he was indeed very, very tired.
And that is how it all ended.
Luck's career – unless you believe he may have a remarkable change of heart and return to football one day. Colts owners Jim Irsay's stated goal of multiple Super Bowls under Luck, after managing to win just one after Peyton Manning fell in his lap with a first-overall pick before using that same pick on the cerebral, can't-miss quarterback from Stanford. The expectations that one day a statue of Luck would stand next to Manning's, as back-to-back Colts Hall of Fame QBs. The premise that the Colts were among the handful of favorites to capture a Lombardi Trophy in 2019.
Andrew Luck's retirement shocked the world, so Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough fired up an emergency Pick Six NFL Podcast to break down ever conceivable angle from the news. Can Luck be considered a bust? Who is to blame here? What does this mean for the Colts in fantasy and their win total for 2019? Listen in the player below and subscribe to the podcast here.
It came to a close in a surreal 20-odd minutes, with the strapping QB jogging off the Lucas Field turf for the last time,, wearing Colts shorts and a t-shirt after watching four quarters of exhibition football with his teammates. He would run into the tunnel and then into a an impromptu press conference to try to explain to a stunned and bewildered group of reporters why at 29-years old, with the second-most passing touchdowns of any player in NFL history in his first six seasons, with over $60M still on his contract, and dealing with a calf injury that seemed minor in comparison to the years of shoulder woes he'd already overcome, this was the end of his football journey.
Some people will understand. Others will succumb to their own jaundiced worldview, mocking and deriding Luck as some sort of poster boy for millennials everywhere, this chiseled and uber-successful professional athlete who recently held the entire Colts franchise in his hand now supposedly just another soft and lazy punk kid. But Luck is too smart and too mature and too comfortable in his own skin for that; he's always been something of a King of The Nerds, a unicorn in QB circles and, if anything, he's reveled in those differences from the pack.
And now, after searching for the right words to convey his mindset and the machinations he went through to settle upon this decision to walk away from the game, he seemed relieved. In a sport where most of the time the business decision is made for the player, but not by the player, Luck was going out entirely on his own terms. Usually, it's the owner or general manager or the team surgeon dictating the culmination of a career, or it's the market speaking (with no offers on the table that come close to the value the player put on himself to risk another year of health and future pain and agony to play pro football).
Not in this case. At a time when quarterbacks are thriving well into their 40s, Luck was contemplating his own mortality – football and otherwise – before age 30, and chose his mental peace, his quality of life, and the totality of his interests above all else. It's a uniquely personal decision very few athletes can ever truly make, let alone just seven years into their careers, but Luck had already achieved Pro Bowls and generational wealth ($100M on the field but not including his many national endorsements) and his body felt much older than 29 and his mind was reeling from the constant probing and prodding of his body to find the next procedure or solution for whatever was betraying him. And he did not want to endure that cycle any longer.
Get mad at him if you must. Pound your chest and tell your friends and your kids how "tough" you would be under those same circumstances, with another $64M awaiting on this current contract alone. But it's not your body and it's not your brain and only a few thousand people on the planet, at most, can truly relate to or understand the grind of this sport and the toll it takes.
For Luck, in the final equation, he did not want to play football simply for the money. As he began reaching out to family and then to Colts brass about some of what he had been contemplating, it was obvious that the usual reasons – chasing a ring, doing what you've always done, getting paid, etc. – might not apply.
You don't get to the point of telling the man who will gladly pay you the going rate for a superstar QB in his prime – a number soon to be $40M a year – that you might not want to do this anymore unless one has already done some mental calculus about where a Super Bowl and the Hall Of Fame ranks on the pantheon of what matters most to that individual (starting a family, being around loved ones, not feeling pained or battered, concerns over post-playing issues like CTE).
At some point, for Luck, he had to decide if another season of fighting his body and going through a battery of tests and procedures just to be able to get on the football field in Week 1, was worth it for the potential spoils and fortune. Was entering another grueling, four-month marathon with only one leg working at full capacity at the start and other bumps and bruises and potentially serious ailments still yet to come, a smart business and health decision for Luck at this stage of his career?
Clearly, it was not.
Less than 24 hours after it all, it's still difficult to process an NFL without Luck in 2019. He was to be one of the faces of this 100th season celebration, after all.
It does still seem a little incongruent to me, having just chatted with him about six weeks ago on an empty field in Westfield, Indiana on the day when Luck seemed open and at ease talking about the latest setback with his calf. It was an upbeat, breezy exchange, with Luck expressing his confidence in being ready for Week 1 and detailing how he had played through much worse before. Coach Frank Reich was comfortable with the situation; general manager Chris Ballard was in good spirits and jovial coming off the practice field.
Everything would eventually be fine. No. 12 was still the franchise. He'd just need a few more weeks. No reason to risk anything in practice or preseason games, anyway. Luck, if anything, appeared hopeful on that July afternoon, late to meet the media because he's been working out longer than he'd anticipated (Luck, ever-thoughtful, apologized several times). He was driven and committed, absorbing mental reps and in the best shape of his life.
You could not have convinced me then, as I jumped back in the rental car to leave Indiana for the next training camp stop, that it would be the last time I'd ever see Luck in such a setting. Even knowing Luck as something of an iconoclast, I never saw this coming, But I get it. It's entirely his call, and that was a very different man we saw under the cameras late Saturday night.
Maybe after a year or more of mental and physical respite Luck will alter his course. Maybe not. At this point neither should surprise us, I suggest.
Regardless, Luck has the world before him and no shortage of interests that stimulate his mind. Broadcasting could be an option. A Silicon Valley start-up. A board game empire. Whatever he wants.
The way he left the game – whatever you might think of it – does not in any way take away from the way he played it, sacrificing his body and himself for his team to a fault. It's actually much tougher, I'd imagine, to prioritize your family and your future over the riches at hand simply by playing the sport he's loved since childhood. Whether his next chapter is large in scope, or incredibly private, I'm excited to see what's to come for Andrew Luck.
He doesn't need outside approval. His career is worthy of respect. Let's hope he finds peace and fulfillment in whatever is to come.