Published Aug. 25, 2019
He didn’t look like he was retiring.
Andrew Luck stood behind a podium in front of reporters, and it had the appearance of something we’re so used to seeing: NFL player stands in front of the team’s branded backdrop, complete with sponsors. It was certainly good PR for Arby’s.
The star quarterback—2018 winner of the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award—was dressed in a Colts t-shirt and at first glance, it looked like a routine presser after a practice or a game But this was no routine announcement.
It could become more routine, however. I’d get used to this sort of thing, frankly.
Andrew Luck has retired from the NFL. He announced it, in his Colts t-shirt behind a podium.
Those Stanford kids are pretty bright, you know.
This wasn’t Jimmy Brown quitting pro football because he wanted to act in movies. This wasn’t Barry Sanders, another who retired while on top of his game, who did so because the losing and the direction of the Lions franchise was akin to that of a Ford spinning its wheels.
This was a man who wanted to get out while he still had his wits about him.
Expect more of this kind of thing. It’s enough to wreak havoc in fantasy football leagues across the world.
Luck cited the injury bug, which has bitten him very often in the last several years. He won the comeback award in 2018 because he missed the entire 2017 season due to injury. Luck led the Colts to the second round of the playoffs last winter, but once again, his body betrayed him in 2019, an ankle injury hampering him in training camp and through the exhibition season.
The injuries, Luck said, have taken the fun out of the game. Too much time rehabbing instead of game planning.
So Luck is done, just seven years after being drafted by the Colts, an organization of which he’s become very fond. Luck spoke glowingly of the Colts in his 20-plus minutes announcement, from the Irsay family ownership to the folks in the team cafeteria.
But this is more than a single NFL star retiring in the prime of his career. Luck will turn 30 next month.
The game is so much more violent, so much more hazardous to one’s health, than ever before. The aforementioned Brown retired in 1965, not because of physical punishment (Jimmy probably inflicted more hurt than he suffered), but because he had other aspirations. Sanders quit because losing and a direction-less franchise were too much to overcome.
Today’s NFL equipment hasn’t been able to keep up with the game’s ferocity. Every Sunday, locomotives are crashing into each other at full speed. The players are bigger than ever before. They’re faster than ever before.
Something has to give, and that’s the human body. More severely, the human brain often follows.
Calvin Johnson, the great Lions receiver, got out while he could still function. Again, multiple injuries played a part in that decision as well.
Not that physical punishment hasn’t existed in the NFL from the get-go in 1920. It has. Lem Barney, the greatest cornerback in Lions history, has said that if he knew then what he knows now about the effects of concussions (they called it “getting your bell rung” in Lem’s day), he wouldn’t even have played football. Chew on that for a moment.
Luck’s retirement, while shocking on one hand due to its timing—virtually on the eve of the regular season—shouldn’t be all that surprising when one thinks about it. I think these “shocking” announcements will become more of the norm going forward.
The shocking aspect of Luck’s decision was that it seemingly “came out of nowhere,” which is how it has been described so far on social media. But who knows how many of Luck’s colleagues are, right now, contemplating the exact same thing? And who knows how long Luck has been contemplating this.
He called it the toughest decision he’s ever made. Well, sure—but should it have been?
At age 30, would you like to stare the rest of your life in the eye and wonder if you’ll be existing throughout it with some sort of physical or mental malady that won’t ever go away—and that will only get worse?
This is why I never begrudge NFL players their high salaries. Make as much dough as you can, while you can, I say. These men are putting themselves through physical hell to entertain us and give a lot of people a chance to win a lot of money every week. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry. And its making its money off the backs of players who are potentially screwing themselves up for the rest of their lives.
Andrew Luck isn’t going to be an anomaly for much longer. George Blanda is dead. Expect more of these “shocking” announcements in the years to come.
Well, you might say, Luck can afford to retire, financially, despite the dollars he might be sacrificing in walking away. That’s my point. The stars of the game will walk away with greater frequency. It’s true—those not making the Andrew Luck or Calvin Johnson money won’t be able, necessarily, to hang up their cleats.
There’s a reason why the average NFL playing career is around three years. And it’s not only because of talent.
Luck, so eloquent and classy in his announcement, will surely have a career waiting for him in television, should he choose that route. Regardless of what he does henceforth, he is at peace with his decision, no matter how difficult it may have been.
One day—and maybe it has already happened—Andrew Luck will realize that it wasn’t all that difficult of a decision, after all.