by Jordy McElroy
One day, the cheers turn to boos, love turns to hate, support turns to opposition and acceptance turns to rejection. That cold, miserable day came on Saturday night for now retired NFL quarterback Andrew Luck.
Nine years ago, Indianapolis Colts fans passionately cheered as a young Luck walked through the doors of Lucas Oil Stadium for the very first time.
Brimming with confidence, he was the successor to the great Peyton Manning; the No. 1 overall draft pick destined to pick up and continue the tradition of the team being a perennial Super Bowl contender.
Who would have ever thought he’d be booed out those same doors after retiring at age 29?
That long, painful walk off the field for the final time as a player was excruciating and downright heartbreaking for anyone watching through sober eyes. What should have been a hero’s exit was disgustingly twisted into a walk of shame.
Not a single fan booing thought about the massive toll of playing behind a shoddy offensive line for so many years had taken on Luck’s body.
A concussion, abdominal tear, labrum tear, torn rib cartilage and a lacerated kidney that had him peeing blood—these are all injuries consistent with someone being involved in a car accident.
And it still wasn’t enough for some fans.
Every boo aimed in Luck’s direction acted as a dagger, emotionally wounding a broken down athlete that finally decided his body couldn’t take anymore punishment.
“This certainly isn’t how I envisioned this or planned this,” an emotional Luck said in an impromptu press conference. “I’m going to 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 and rehab. It’s been unceasing and unrelenting in season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football.”
Retirement is never convenient.
That’s the one truth that seems lost in the whole treating Luck’s timing like an inconvenience angle. As if Luck woke up one morning and said to himself, “I’m going to retire several months from now.”
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has also dealt with his fair share of injuries, contemplated retirement two years ago. He ultimately decided against it once he returned and got back into the flow of things with his teammates.
Luck likely had the same considerations.
Despite those dreadful thoughts creeping into his mind, he continued to push through in hopes of the football gods smiling in his direction. The Colts had finally patched the busted offensive line that led to years of punishment for him behind center.
They inserted fresh offensive talent in the mix, along with building a burgeoning defense coming off a breakout season. A 22-year-old Luck might have had a different career trajectory if those elements were in place when he took his first NFL snap.
But that isn’t how his football story played out. A calf and ankle injury suffered in training camp was the last straw.
Luck walked away from football knowing that decision would take away the sport he’s grown to love since he was a child. It would essentially end any hopes or dreams he had of ever winning a Super Bowl. Maybe it ruins his chances of ever being mentioned among the all-time greats in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With all of those things hanging in the balance, Luck still chose to walk away.
He delivered two divisional titles to Indy, along with taking the Colts to the playoffs four times and competing for a conference championship. His 23,671 passing yards over the course of his first six years in the league ranks third behind Manning and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. He also ranks second behind Marino with 171 passing touchdowns.
This was a quarterback competing and playing at the highest level, and yet, he still chose to walk away.
It’s easy to be desensitized sitting in the stands or on a couch in the comfort of a living room, watching human bodies flying around on a football field and constantly crashing into one another at reckless speeds. Football is a tough and brutal sport, and the players know the risks when they sign up.
It’s even better when they know when it’s time to walk away. Luck and his wife, Nicole, are expecting their first child, according to WTHR, via the Indy Star.
It’s a life-altering event that also had to be taken into consideration when the decision was made to retire from football. Luck going out on his shield literally might have meant enduring the sort of injuries that kept him from living a quality life as a future father.
A little inconvenience is a small price to pay to be able to walk out the doors of Lucas Oil Stadium, rather than being carried out.
Perhaps those same fans that booed will regrettably reflect back on the day when Luck had to pull the plug on a lifelong dream and walk away. That cold, miserable Saturday when their love for football trumped their compassion for a human being.