By Terrance Turner
In a move that shocked both NFL players and fans, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said Saturday night that he is retiring. After watching from the sidelines during the Colts’ preseason loss to Chicago Bears, Luck held a press conference to announce his decision.
“This certainly isn’t how I envisioned or planned this,” Luck began, “but I am gonna retire. This is not an easy decision — honestly, it’s the hardest decision of my life — but it is the right decision for me. For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab. Injury, pain, rehab. And it’s been unceasing and unrelenting, both in season and off-season, and I felt stuck in it, and the only way I see out is to no longer play football,” he said. “It’s taken my joy of this game away.”
It is a surprising end to a career that was often spectacular. Luck was born in Washington, D.C, but father Oliver Luck was a quarterback for the Houston Oilers. After he became CEO of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, the family moved to Houston. Luck attended Stratford High School, where he threw over 7,000 passing yards and 53 touchdowns in three seasons. He was also co-valedictorian of his graduating class, according to an online bio on Stanford University’s website.
At Stanford, Luck amassed 82 touchdowns and broke his own record for highest career completion percentage (71.3%). He was drafted No. 1 by the Colts in 2012. In his first three seasons, Luck shined, leading the Colts to three straight playoff runs and back-to-back wins of the AFC South. Luck also helped the Colts mount a remarkable comeback in the 2014 AFC Wild Card game. Down 38-10 in the third quarter, Luck and the Colts rallied to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 45-44. It is the second-biggest comeback in NFL history. The next year, the Colts reached the AFC Championship Game.
But Luck suffered a shoulder injury early in the 2015 season. It was the first of a slew of injuries. According to CBS Sports, Luck suffered a partially torn abdominal muscle and lacerated kidney (both 2015), torn cartilage in his ribs (Jan. 2016), a concussion (Nov. 2016), and shoulder surgery (2017). That series of injuries forced him to miss 26 games — including the entire 2017 season.
He stormed back to the league in 2018, throwing for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns, according to ESPN. The Colts made the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and Luck was named Comeback Player of the Year at the NFL Honors. But that playoff season was followed by a calf sprain and ankle issues. “It’s a myriad of issues — calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain,” Luck told reporters during the press conference. “I’m still in pain.”
Colts fans added to that pain by booing Luck as he left the field Saturday night. Jacoby Brissett, who is now the Colts’ franchise quarterback, was distressed by that reaction: “I had already had conversations with Andrew, so I was at peace with it, but I wish he could have done it his way,” Brissett said. “That sucked as a teammate, to see that and feel the reaction he got from the fans for him. That hurt more than anything.” Pat McAfee, a punter who played with Luck for five seasons, echoed that sentiment about the crowd — “their immediate reaction was a bad one. I think a lot of Indianapolis Colts fans are embarrassed that that happened,” he said. On Twitter, McAfee tweeted a picture of an emotional Luck during the press conference. McAfee called the image (shown above) “heartbreaking”, adding: “I hope he finds his joy.”
In Houston, the response was similar but more tempered. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson called the news of Luck’s retirement “mind-blowing”, adding: “It was something that of course caught everyone off guard.” Watson had nothing but praise for Luck, though: “He’s a great quarterback. One of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league. And he’s doing it for the right reasons. For himself.” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt called Luck “[an] incredible competitor and a truly great person.” In his Instagram post of the two embracing after a game, Watt wrote: “Wishing Andrew nothing but the best going forward. I know this had to be [an] unbelievably difficult decision.”
On Tuesday, Luck received support from an unlikely source. During a press conference, former NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski — whose patriots beat the Colts in the AFC Championship Game in 2015 — expressed empathy. “I feel for Andrew Luck,” he said. “I feel for him, and that’s just a story about what players deal through [sic], and how it affects you off the field, too.” Like Luck, Gronkowski retired at age 29 in March. Luck will be 30 on Sept. 12.