By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Last week I wrote that hardly anything happens during the NFL’s preseason.
I obviously needed a footnote. I should have added, “… except in Indianapolis.”
Andrew Luck announced he was giving up the game of football on Saturday night in a hastily called news gathering. The Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback caught everyone by surprise with this news.
“This is not an easy decision,” Luck said. “Honestly it’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.
“For the last four years or, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab. Injury, pain, rehab. And it’s been unceasing, unrelenting — both in-season and offseason. And I felt stuck in it, and the only way I see out is to no longer play football.”
This is one of the most shocking retirements in sports history, since Luck was still considered to be in his prime (age 29) and there was no advance notice of it. The two best comparisons date back to the 1960s: Sandy Koufax (who had well-publicized injuries in the years before retirement) and Jim Brown (who didn’t, and therefore delivered even more of a surprise).
Let’s try to sort a little of this out, as it says something about the sports business these days. First of all, Adam Schefter of ESPN – who doesn’t seem to ever sleep – broke the story Saturday night. The plan was for Luck to tell the team about the decision after the preseason game on Saturday, and then announce it to the world on Sunday afternoon.
Schefter received some criticism on Twitter for somehow spoiling the surprise, which is really silly. After all, Luck was going to tell about 80 football players, 20 or so coaches, and other executives on the Colts that he was retiring. Are you going to tell me that more than 100 people would keep that quiet from everyone? Word always gets out eventually on news like this, so at best Schefter just moved the timetable up a little. Besides, things happen fast in the digital age. The fans knew the story before the preseason game at home was over.
That brings us to the next point, which concerns those fans. Some of them – it’s obviously impossible to determine the number, but clearly it was a good-sized amount – booed Luck as he left the field after the game. But what exactly were they booing? I guess the fans figured that the Colts were likely to have a poor season without their star quarterback, and that quarterback took the blame. Think Tom Brady would have been booed in New England under the same circumstances?
Luck said that he was sick of being injured and having to go through recovery periods, and didn’t see the point of trying to prolong his career. Is that so hard to accept? Had all of the fans already taken him for their fantasy team, thus essentially ending their hopes a week before the opening? Let’s hope not in both cases.
Some of the members of the media were surprisingly tough on Luck. Doug Gottlieb led the way with a Tweet: “Retiring cause rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever.” That’s the sort of line that will stick to a sports talk show host for life, and not in a good way.
Former NFL quarterback Steve Beuerlein added, “I am a HUGE #AndrewLuck fan… always have been. But this I cannot defend or justify. NO scenario where retirement is defensible. To do this to his teammates, organization, fans, and the NFL 2 weeks before the season is just not right. I love the guy but this will haunt him. … Point is this is a massive decision he SAID he has pondered for 10 DAYS! #Colts invested in him for 5-10 more YRS! Go on IR, get away for a few weeks and think about it. Get healthy for 2nd half of season and make a run! #Colts are good! If #Jacoby goes 4-4 they have a chance!”
The other side was represented by one of the people most affected by the decision; Colts’ head coach Frank Reich: “He did the right thing,” Reich said Monday of Luck. “He did the courageous thing and the honorable thing.”
Reich said that if Luck wasn’t fully committed to playing football, he shouldn’t be participating – no matter what the financial benefits might be. That strikes me as a very rational opinion on a subject that might carry considerable emotion with it.
And speaking of that, I wonder if we’re going to see more of these announcements in the years to come – even if they aren’t so dramatic. The risk of life-altering injuries through concussions probably won’t decrease in the near future. We already saw John Urschel (Canisius High School) retire rather than risk his career in mathematics.
Luck already has earned something like $97 million through football, so he should be set for life. The Colts have decided not to ask for $24 million in bonuses back, even though they are allowed to do so according to the collective bargaining agreement. Luck could have spent the year on injured reserve and kept the bonuses and his 2019 salary, so this seems like a fair agreement.
Will we see players get out with their faculties intact and their savings accounts full? Are the 20-year careers turned in by players like Brady headed for extinction? We’ll have to wait a while on that, but it seems at least possible.
In the meantime, let’s hope Luck is at peace with this decision. And if he’s not, well, athletes have been known to unretire.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)