I have lived in Indianapolis for 16 years. Saturday night was the third biggest sports night in the city over that span.
1: Colts beat Patriots to win the AFC title in 2007
2: Colts beat the Bears to win the Super Bowl
3: Andrew Luck announces his retirement
This may seem like weird ordering to outsiders, but the vibe in this city after that AFC title game win was way beyond the mood two weeks later. A lot of that had to do wth the games. The title game was an epic, cathartic, unforgettable game punctuated by a string of monumental plays in the fourth quarter, and a radio call that will live forever in Indy, “Intercepted! Marlin Jackson! Marlin’s got it! We’re going to the Super Bowl!” The Super Bowl was sloppy, played in the rain, filled with mistakes, and the only memorable thing about it was Prince’s halftime performance. It was a letdown after the instant classic conference title game.
But Saturday night, when Andrew Luck dropped an absolute bomb on the Colts, on the NFL, and on the city, that was something else. Totally unexpected. Craziest timing possible. Beating the Patriots seemed like an improbable task, but it was still within the realm of possibility. This, though? Uh-uh, no way, not a single Colts fan had this anywhere in the back of their minds.
When I first saw the news I figured it was a joke from a fake account that mimicked some NFL “insider.” Then I flipped over to ESPN and saw the ticker and been taken over by new of Luck’s pending announcement. It was a surreal moment.
The football implications are obvious: this totally derails the Colts rebuild, which had gone almost flawlessly since Chris Ballard and Frank Reich took over. They had nailed their first draft and free agent class. Their second efforts in both areas got positive reviews. And Andrew Luck seemed to be totally back in 2018. They were poised to be one of the best teams in football for the next few years, battling the Patriots and Chiefs for AFC supremacy.
Now that’s all gone. They might still be a nice team with all those other parts. Jacoby Brissett, who did a serviceable job behind the worst offensive line in football in 2017, might be good enough to keep the Colts in the playoff mix behind a much improved line, with better running backs, and a stronger receiving corps. Sure, teams have won Super Bowls with pedestrian QBs. But those teams always had epic defenses to carry them. The Colts defense is not epic. You need an elite quarterback to elevate a team. With Luck gone, the Colts look like a team that’s best hope is to go into December with a chance to get a Wild Card spot rather than playing for a division title or home field.
The predicatable negative responses have been disappointing. The boos Luck received as he walked off the field after Saturday’s preseason game were embarrassing. The national talking heads who have called him a whiny millennial for wilting in the face of another rehab hard are embarrassments as well.
None of us know what Luck is going through. We have no idea how much pain he’s been in over the past five years. We have no idea how difficult his shoulder rehab really was. We have no idea what is going on with his leg right now. We have no idea what it is like to wake up in the morning in pain that refuses to cease, and under mental strain that just gets heavier each day. You can throw out stories about Ronnie Lott chopping part of a finger off to keep playing, Emmett Smith playing with a separated shoulder, etc and claim that Luck doesn’t measure up to them. But do any of us know that for sure? The guy played with a lacerated kidney, I think his toughness has been proven. Just because he is a huge human being doesn’t mean that his body can’t give out. Or even his mind can tell him that enough is enough.
As a Colts fan, I’m disappointed. He looked so good last year, both showing his physical ability was back and making changes in his game to protect himself. There was no reason not to believe he was just entering the prime of his career and would keep the Colts in contention as long as his body held up.
There’s also a part of me that hopes he takes a year off to heal away from the pressures of football, enjoys his first months as a father, and decides next summer he wants to give the game another shot. I have to think that’s a huge reason behind the Colts not attempting to reclaim over $24 million that they could try to take back from Luck.
But I totally respect his decision. He’s always been a little different than your typical NFL player. It’s not that your average player doesn’t think of the implications of the physical toll the game takes on them after they retire. I just think they are able to push those concerns aside and focus on the moment in front of them. Luck, though, made comments over the years that he was already thinking of how the injuries of today would affect the life he wanted to lead tomorrow.
I don’t know that he will ever share everything that has been going on with him. I kind of hope that he doesn’t. I hope he can fade into semi-abscurity living the life he wants to live, healthy and at peace, and we never know much about it beyond the occasional “Whatever happened to Andrew Luck?” piece.