Andrew Luck’s retirement from the NFL came at a weird time. Solemnly, after a preseason game — with only an Adam Schefter tweet to foreshadow what we were about to witness.
We haven’t been conditioned to seeing moments like this. Stoic at the podium, Luck plainly delivered the news in his unmistakable baritone voice:
“This certainly isn’t how I’d envisioned this or planned this, but I am gonna retire.”
While the announcement didn’t come easily for him, Luck was matter of fact about it all. No prolonged pining on a career cut short. It was spoken by someone who has clearly been thinking about his life after football long before making the decision to transition into an existence after the game. And while it hurts the Colts, who now need to scramble to work on a long-term plan for their quarterback situation, the rest of the football world is left to ponder the most shocking retirement since Barry Sanders hung up his cleats on top of his game at 31.
We’re all shocked, but we shouldn’t be. The issue isn’t so much that Luck blindsided everyone with his decision, and more that we’re accustomed to believing that football is the most important thing in every player’s life, making it unimaginable they would ever walk away willingly from the game. The truth is, in hindsight Luck was telling us all along, in his own way, that his life was about more than football.
Luck defied expectations from the second he set foot in college. He made the most of his athletic scholarship to Stanford and didn’t just treat the prestigious school like a stepping stone. Instead, he pursued a degree in architecture — which was mentioned only as a bellwether in broadcasts to underscore his intelligence, rather than a sign he might be interested in something more than throwing a football.
Luck was a lock to be the No. 1 overall pick when Jim Harbaugh left to become head coach of the 49ers in 2011. The Carolina Panthers told him as much, and football fans fully expected he was going to head to the NFL. Luck was draft eligible, was going to be taken No. 1, and his head coach was gone. Players don’t stay in school when this happens — and yet, he did. Luck decided to finish his degree, work under a new coach, and take out an insurance policy on his body should something go wrong on the field.
A year later, the stars aligned. A neck injury to Peyton Manning left the Colts with the No. 1 pick, and suddenly he was staring down the barrel of being heir apparent to the biggest quarterback legacy in the NFL. Luck was ceaselessly compared to Manning. So much so that his bust might as well have already been bronzed in Canton before he ever took a snap.
There was such an unflappable expectation that Luck would be the next Manning that his place among the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks was being discussed before his third season. It’s because we loved the narrative — all of us. The notion that the Colts could seamlessly transition from Manning to Luck seemed so innately unfair to non-Colts fans that the system almost seemed rigged. We haven’t seen such a serendipitous circumstance in sports since the San Antonio Spurs were gifted Tim Duncan in the 1997 NBA Draft to solidify their big man succession plans when David Robinson would eventually retire.
That mythos of legacy overshadowed everything when it came to Andrew Luck. It caused us to gloss over his mounting injuries, the frustrations of Colts fans and the very real possibility that the narrative built in our minds would never see its third act. It also ignored the reality that Luck, who had always been pragmatic in his decision making, might value something more than playing in the NFL.
A lot of this is because Luck’s life had been exceedingly fortuitous. That’s not to ignore the hard work and dedication it took for him to reach the NFL, but rather the reality that perhaps the NFL needed Andrew Luck more than he needed it. He was born into a wealthy family — his father, Oliver, was a former NFL quarterback who had since held a variety of executive jobs in sports (general manager in NFL Europe and MLS, athletic director of West Virginia and now commissioner of the XFL). Luck didn’t need to support his family or shoulder the burden of setting them up for future generations. The fact he was such an astoundingly good quarterback was just a bonus.
Luck legitimately loved the game of football, but injuries took that joy away. Thankfully he’d always been looking at life holistically, and never let football define him solely.
This is also a man whose priorities have altered a lot in the last year. Luck married his longtime girlfriend earlier this year, and announced the couple were expecting their first child shortly before training camp. It’s life-altering changes like that which cause you to reassess, and who the hell can fault him for opting to hang it up when your options is retiring from the NFL at age 29 with millions in earnings, with a new family and plenty of time to move to something else?
Every excuse for Luck to keep playing rings hollow when held up against the life he leads. Many would stay for the money or the prestige, but neither have ever been things Andrew Luck has been overtly interested in. Instead, he’s walking away from the game with his health relatively intact, with enough money to ensure his future and opportunities that extend beyond the field.
The #Colts have known that QB Andrew Luck was seriously mulling retiring for at least two weeks. He’s married, he plans to travel the world, and once the love for the game waned, it sounds like he wanted to step away. So, he did.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 25, 2019
Andrew Luck lived everyone’s dream. Whether that’s playing the NFL or retiring comfortably at age 29. Now he gets to see the world and spend time with his wife and soon-to-be-born baby. Who wouldn’t want to have that be the road map of their life? It might be a surprise to see him walk away, but the signs were always there. All we can say now is “congratulations,” for playing the game and winning — not of football, but life.