Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has been injured more or less since the third game of the 2015 season, when he was sacked three times and hit four other times in a win over the Tennessee Titans and was observed afterward struggling to clothe himself because of the pain in his throwing shoulder. More suffering followed just weeks later, when Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and a partial tear of an abdominal muscle against the Denver Broncos. Late in the season, it was revealed that Luck tore cartilage in his ribs.
Luck would play 15 games the next season, missing the Colts’ Thanksgiving day game against the Steelers with a concussion suffered four days earlier. He would be sacked 44 times and hit 128 times. After the season, in January 2017, Luck finally had surgery on the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, the one he suffered more than a year earlier and had played through for an entire season. He hasn’t played since and won’t play at all this season after the Colts finally put him on injured reserve last week. Clearly, he’s been battered.
But does Colts owner Jim Irsay think it’s all in Luck’s head? Tony Dungy, the team’s former coach, seemed to suggest that during an appearance on Dan Patrick’s radio show Monday. Bob Kravitz of WTHR-TV in Indianapolis has the rundown:
During a commercial cut-in of Dan Patrick’s national radio show, guest Tony Dungy, who did not know he was on the air, told Patrick during a break that Irsay recently told him he believes that what’s holding Luck back from returning to the field is more mental than it is physical.
Patrick asked Dungy about the Luck situation, and Dungy responded, “I don’t know what’s going on there. Jim Irsay made a comment to me about six weeks ago, ‘It’s inside his head now.’”
Patrick: “Wait, it’s inside Luck’s head?”
Dungy: “Yeah, he (Irsay) said that when I was out (in Indianapolis) for Peyton’s ceremony.”
Patrick was stunned. “Wow,” he said. “I really wonder if Luck’s future is in Indianapolis. I really do.”
Dungy didn’t respond initially, then when Patrick brought up the fact that Irsay expected Luck back at the start of the season or early in the season, Dungy replied, “They obviously believed it because they did nothing to prepare for him not being there.”
On Tuesday, Dungy clarified his anecdote, saying there were other people around, too:
In fact, it seemed as if Irsay and Co. fully expected Luck to be back this season, as the owner publicly said during the summer that Luck would return for the season opener and then, after that became more and more unlikely because he simply wasn’t throwing, that he would be back early in the season. Neither happened, and the team finally had to make a move just days before the season, acquiring Jacoby Brissett via trade from the New England Patriots.
By then, Irsay already had seemed to suggest Luck was struggling with the mental aspects of his injuries.
“It’s been said before, all sports is played on a four-inch field between your ears. It’s really important we continue to help Andrew emotionally, mentally, get his confidence and his endorsement, deep down his rubber stamp (in) his heart of hearts because in the end, that carries the biggest weight,” he said Aug. 13.
About a month before the 2016 season — once again, Luck was injured for nearly all of it and playing behind an awful offensive line — the Colts locked up their quarterback with a six-year contract extension that would make him the highest-paid player in the league. It runs through the 2021 season, and a divorce would be difficult because of the deal’s sheer scope. Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumors of discontent between player and team.
“I’m not sure if I want to use the word ‘rumor’ … there is sort of a general sense that you hear from people around the league, if you talk to people who cover the sport of football right now, that there is an ever-widening gap between Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts,” ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said in September. “That his unhappiness and, perhaps, some familial unhappiness stems back beyond this. That maybe he felt he played when he wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
“And there’s some talk that — even that there’s some talk with that enormous contract and his enormous talent that we could be seeing right before our eyes the end of the Andrew Luck era in Indianapolis.”
Luck’s agent, Will Wilson, was quick to shoot that down.
“Quite simply and succinctly, there’s no truth to that comment at all,’’ Wilson told Kravitz. “Andrew did a long-term deal and he did it for a reason: He wants to be with the Colts and he’s committed to the Colts. It’s as simple as that. He looks forward to the opportunity to play when he’s ready. He wants to get out there when he’s ready, obviously. He’s just going through rehab; it’s the process he’s going through.’’
But now comes word from Dungy that the Colts’ owner may think it’s all in Luck’s head, despite all of the painful evidence to the contrary, and a player who isn’t even playing this season stays in the news cycle for all the wrong reasons.