We don’t often write about sports here, and when we do, it’s usually Lord Castleton who takes up the mantle, and this particular story probably doesn’t dovetail nicely into politics or the MCU or the Oscar race or what is currently airing on Netflix. But, y’all: I am heartbroken that Andrew Luck retired from the NFL this weekend. But also, I am so proud that Andrew Luck retired from the NFL this weekend.
I am a longtime Indianapolis Colts fan. I’d say lifelong, but that’s not true: In the ’90s, I decided I needed to align with a particular NFL football club. My home state has no NFL team, and I wasn’t about to align with the Dallas Cowboys, as so many Arkansans had, so I chose the Colts from Indianapolis for one reason only: That’s where David Letterman is from. When it comes to allegiances, however, the reasons hardly matter: Once you buy into a team, you’re in. For life. And I fell hard for the Colts, even though there were a few hard seasons there in the beginning until Peyton Manning took over as quarterback and got through his miserable 3-13 rookie season.
When Peyton left for the Broncos after a season lost to injury several years ago, I was devasted, but I could take solace in the fact that the Colts drafted Andrew Luck, which portended a bright future where the Colts would seamlessly transition from Manning to Luck and maintain their position as one of the best NFL teams in the league (and yes, one that always made the playoffs, but almost never won, which — as also a Braves fan — is the story of my sports-fandom life).
It seemed to be going well in that regard for the first few seasons. The Colts hardly missed a step with Andrew Luck guiding them. They still weren’t winning championships, but they were in it every year. That is, until Luck got hurt because the Colts organization didn’t make the right moves to protect their quarterback. Lingering issues turned into season-ending injuries. He only played half the 2015 season, and he lost all of the 2017 season because he had a lacerated kidney. But he fought his way back and, after a 1-4 start, took the Colts to the playoffs again in 2018, earning Comeback Player of the Year. As a fan, last year may have been as thrilling as the Colts Super Bowl win in 2007.
In the offseason, however, Luck suffered from what appeared to be minor injuries — or at least, that’s how Colts management always seemed to frame it. I suspect there was an immense amount of pressure for Luck to get back on the field and play, regardless of his health. That kind of pressure can get to a player — to have an entire city relying on him to play through his injury. It took its toll. It stopped being fun.
So, Andrew Luck retired. At 29 years of age, with three years and more than $60 million left on his contract. He just … walked away. When the news broke on Saturday night, it felt like a gut punch. On the other hand, for non-football reasons, I couldn’t have been more proud to call him my favorite player in the NFL. He put his health and wellbeing over money — hell, he could have sat out the year with an injury and collected another $20 million. But he wanted to get his life back. He wanted to start a new life. He wanted to have a good quality of life not characterized by nagging injuries and concussion-related mental deterioration for the rest of his life. He wanted to enjoy life again.
It sucks for the Colts and their fans, but then again, it’s only a game … a game that is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of its players. And the thing about Andrew Luck is that he’s a good guy (something that I couldn’t always say about Manning) — he is smart and thoughtful, and he gives a damn about life outside of the NFL. He is goofy-looking with his weird patchy beard, and he was never going to be able to sell DirecTV subscriptions like Manning, but that was never important to him. He didn’t give a damn about the fame. He only cared about having fun, and when it stopped being fun, Andrew Luck walked away from the game and from a near-certain Hall of Fame career.
When we were making Parks and Recreation we shot scenes with the Colts. We were told we had maybe an hour with the players. Then Andrew Luck showed up, and he was an absolute delight. Warm, funny, generous. He threw TD passes to anyone who wanted one, just to make us happy. 1/— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) August 25, 2019
He made fifty fans that day. If the game isn’t bringing that guy joy anymore, it’s the game’s fault, not his. I love that he has the courage and integrity to walk away from this insane sport, and wish him nothing but health and happiness from whatever he does next. 3/3— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) August 25, 2019
Andrew Luck was one of the best players to ever play in the NFL. But he was also really good people. I was listening to a podcast with Peter Sagal (of NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”) over the weekend and he said that, when he was younger, he wanted to be remembered for his litany of accomplishments as a radio broadcaster. However, now that he’s older, all he wants to be remembered for now is being a good person, someone with whom people enjoyed working. I think Andrew Luck figured out, at 29, what Peter Sagal figured out in his 50s. Luck may not be remembered as one of the best players of the game, but he will always be remembered as one of the game’s best guys.