Saturday night the NCAA was popping the cork on its 150th season. The matchup between the Florida Gators and the Miami Hurricanes was nationally-televised and the focus of the football world. Then the NFL stepped in and took control of the news cycle.
The bright red ticker popped up on the bottom of the screen. Breaking news. Four-time Pro Bowler, NFL 2018 comeback player of the year, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck would announce his retirement. … What?
Luck Booed Off Lucas Oil Field
The Colts were playing the Chicago Bears at that very moment and Luck was on the sidelines with his teammates. Seeing Luck rushed to the locker room so that an announcement could be made to keep up with the breaking news was surreal. There was a smattering of boos from the stands in Lucas Oil Field. It seemed more like an instinctive reaction when you don’t know what else to do as opposed to fans booing from a place of hate or disgust. To say there wasn’t a momentary sense of desperation would seem a lie.
This was the #1 overall pick in 2012 who would make it alright to move on from Peyton Manning. Even after he had picked up four MVP trophies, made two Super Bowl appearances and been the most recognizable face of the Colts franchise since Johnny Unitas. In his six years in the league, Luck has been to the Pro Bowl four times. He was the 2014 NFL passing touchdown leader and won the 2018 Comeback Player of the year award. Manning, 29, would be leading this franchise for a few more years. Then he wasn’t.
Luck Isn’t Alone
The NFL story has many chapters of players who walked away from the game either prematurely, or unexpectedly.
In Detroit, in 2016 there was nobody in the NFL that could stop Calvin Johnson except for Johnson himself when seemingly at or near the top of his game the wide receiver would retire and not look back.
Speaking of Lions not looking back; Barry Sanders walked, not ran from football at age 29 in 1999. The day Sanders decided to retire, you could hear an audible gasp across the entire NFL. Half of which because he had burned more teams, and broke more ankles than few running backs ever have in the NFL. To have seen him live on the green grass at Tampa Stadium was truly a sight to behold.
The San Francisco 49ers would see linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland exit early within the same month of each other. Both because of injuries, Borland’s famously as the very first player to publicly acknowledge retirement citing a concern for head trauma.
There are so many other players who walked away on their terms. Tony Boselli, Robert Smith, Sterling Sharpe, Ickey Woods, La Charles Bentley, Jake Plummer, etc. Even the great Jim Brown would retire from toting the rock for the Cleveland Browns because admittedly, he felt he was as good as an actor as a football player, and he did do very well in Hollywood.
For Luck, dealing with the injuries over these last few years has been emotionally draining. Still possessing the passion and drive to be one of the best in the league at his position, but going from rehabbing one part of his body to the next, it started to put life into perspective. The 29-year-old Stanford University graduate and his beautiful wife Nicole are expecting their first child. He stated that his body is not responding to the rehabilitation as it should. Sometimes fans forget that for most of these modern-day gladiators, they have been playing football at a very competitive level for in some cases, two decades or more.
Not all our NFL heroes are going to go out like John Elway. Back-to-back Super Bowl champion in his last two seasons. Winning the Super Bowl MVP trophy in his very last game. There are going to be players that call them like they see them. We can respect what great players bring to the game as well as whether they should still be bringing them or not.
Players Are People, Too
Whether for health, wealth, change in routine, or family matters. Players lives, like yours and mine change as we travel through life. Maybe it’s the year-round grind in today’s NFL. One might wish to settle down and enjoy that family that is on the way. It could absolutely have to do with the quality of life as we grow older and wiser. We can’t honor our heroes and the feats they accomplish on the field without acknowledging that they, like us, are human too which makes the things they accomplish so amazing.
The NFL will continue to see players stay too long, or leave a little early. Fans will cheer and yell, and scream, and go crazy. We will get over Andrew Luck retiring before you know it. All of us that is except Indianapolis fans. For them, it may take a little bit longer.