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NFL officially out of Luck

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NFL officially out of Luck (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Another NFL star has walked away before his time.

It’s Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck this time around; Luck announced his retirement from the league in an impromptu news conference following the team’s preseason contest against the Chicago Bears on Saturday. The plan had been to announce on Sunday afternoon, but when ESPN broke the story, Luck’s hand was forced.

“I’m in pain, I’m still in pain. It’s been four years of this pain, rehab cycle,” the 29-year-old Luck said as part of his remarks. “It’s a myriad of issues — calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain. Part of my journey going forward will be figuring out how to feel better.”

Luck leaves behind an impressive, albeit injury-marred football legacy.

His collegiate career at Stanford offered a long look at the greatness that was to come – his last two seasons saw him exceed 3,300 yards and 32 TD passes each year while completing over 70 percent of his throws; he was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in both 2010 and 2011.

He was the first overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, chosen by the Colts. Expectations were sky-high – he was taken to serve as the replacement for legendary QB Peyton Manning – and yet, he managed to more or less meet them.

His first three seasons saw him achieve significant success – he started all 16 games each year, putting up identical 11-5 records in all three. His rookie year saw him pass for over 4,300 yards with 23 TDs, though he did get picked 18 times. His yardage total dropped in 2013, but his TD numbers remained the same and he halved his interceptions. And he blew up in a big way in 2014, passing for over 4,700 yards and leading the league with 40 touchdown passes.

It was the next year when the injury issues began, however. He only appeared in seven games for the Colts in 2015, thanks to a lacerated kidney. And he dealt with significant shoulder soreness when he did play that season, as well as the next (though he did have a statistically impressive 2016 – 4,240 yards, 31 TDs – it was clear something wasn’t right). He underwent shoulder surgery that wound up costing him the entirety of 2017.

And yet, last year, he looked like Luck’s luck had turned. He set new career highs in completions (430), attempts (639) and completion percentage (67.3), while putting up his second-best season in terms of TD passes (39) and yardage (4,593); it was enough to get him named as 2018’s Comeback Player of the Year.

But nagging injuries kept cropping up. And despite his best efforts at rehab, Luck struggled to get himself healthy enough to perform on the field. Finally, he made the choice to walk away.

In the end, it’s an impressive line. In his 86 regular season starts, he was 53-33. He completed 2000 passes on 3290 attempts for a 60.8 percentage. He passed for 23,671 yards and 171 TDs against 83 interceptions. He rushed for 1,590 yards and 14 scores. He engineered 16 fourth-quarter comebacks and 20 game-winning drives.

Still, when a player walks away this young, with this much seemingly left in the tank, the questions about what might have been are always going to linger. That said, it is his choice and his alone, one made after what were doubtless difficult hours of contemplation. We hate to see the greats go before their time, but that’s the thing: we don’t get to decide when their time is. That privilege is the player’s and the player’s alone.

It’s no different than Rob Gronkowski retiring earlier this year. Or Calvin Johnson walking away back in 2016. Or Patrick Willis in 2014. And on and on. Go back farther and you find early retirees like Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers and Jim Brown. These men put their bodies and brains on the line every day. For many, the risks are worth it. But it is the individual who gets to choose when the rewards no longer merit those risks.

Andrew Luck has made that decision. Football has been great to him, but he was no longer willing and/or able to give everything that the game requires at its highest levels. That’s his choice – and it’s one that we should respect. Does it seem abrupt and out of nowhere? Sure … to us. One imagines that this is a decision that wasn’t arrived at lightly – he has undoubtedly had plenty of conversations with family, friends, teammates and coaches. He knows what he’s doing.

As fans, we’ll miss seeing him perform on the field – he might well be leaving a decade of football on the table. But as people, we should applaud a man willing to do what he believes is best for himself both in the short-term and the long.

Fare thee well, Andrew Luck. Bon chance.

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