Andrew Luck has stepped away from pro football at 29 years old. The legacy left behind is one of wonderment, winning and what-if.
Andrew Luck walked out of Arrowhead Stadium a beaten man in January. His Indianapolis Colts had been handled by the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round, but better days were coming.
After years of surviving former general manager Ryan Grigson’s gross mismanagement, the Colts’ superstar quarterback was finally on a contending team with a wide-open window. The front office had drafted phenomenally, the veteran talent was abundant and Frank Reich proved himself an excellent, young head coach. Luck’s career would be defined by what was coming.
Turns out the last sentence remains true.
Luck stunningly retired on Saturday night, speaking with red eyes in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium. Most everyone believed they were going to a boring preseason game. They ended up witnessing one of the most shocking moments in league history.
At 29 years old, Luck should have another decade. His contract runs for three more seasons. If he played to his current level, there would have been a record-setting deal waiting for him. It’s not hyperbole to say he walked away from another $400-500 million. Luck chose health and happiness. Good for him.
Still, the legacy Luck leaves behind will forever be linked to a broken body and hauntings of what-ifs.
The first-overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck was a generational talent replacing a generational talent in Peyton Manning. The promise was being fulfilled. Three seasons, three playoff appearances, two division titles. Each year, the Colts advanced a round further. Despite a roster with obvious flaws, Luck had Indianapolis on the doorstep of the Super Bowl.
Then it felt apart. His body, that is. In 2015, a torn abdominal muscle and lacerated kidney. In ’16, right shoulder surgery that took away all of the following season. Last year, a blissful return punctuated with a playoff berth and being named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
With Chris Ballard running the team, Luck was finally behind a quality offensive line. He had weapons, a terrific coaching staff and a burgeoning defense. The Colts were ready to truly contend.
Then the calf. And an ankle. Month upon month, the pain remained. So did the doubt. On Saturday, Luck finally decided he’d been through enough. Time to move on.
All this leads into what will be the final thought on Luck’s impressive but abbreviated career. He had the talent to win Super Bowls. Plural. The Colts were about to challenge for a few. Now he’s gone, and with it, any hope of Indianapolis raising the Lombardi Trophy in the near future.
There are ample quarterbacks throughout time with top-tier resumes and one missing line. Warren Moon. Dan Marino. Dan Fouts. Jim Kelly and so forth. The difference is all those men charged at the challenge for decades, only to run out of time. In a less frustrating body, Luck had another decade. He’s decided to stop fighting his pain, and who among us can fault him for it?
There will be talk of Jacoby Brissett being a fine replacement, and he is. As far as backups go. Brissett might even prove worthy of a hefty contract, but he’s not Luck. So few in the history of football are. Believing Brissett can steady the team is realistic. Believing he can drive it through January is another.
As Luck walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night, his football career ended. The cheering is behind him. The pain eventually will be too.
The promise of better days remains more true than ever.