Andrew Luck isn’t the first NFL player to retire at the height of his career. But, unlike Barry Sanders or Calvin Johnson or Rob Gronkowski, he was booed as he left the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for the final time Saturday night.
The news that he would retire before his 30th birthday had leaked during the fourth quarter of the Colts’ 27-17 loss to the Chicago Bears and Luck, the man tasked with replacing Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, admitted in an emotional and impromptu news conference afterward that it stung.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I heard the reaction,” Luck said. “It hurt. I’ll be honest, it hurt.”
It was part of a surreal scene, one that Luck and the Colts could not control. They’d planned for him to address teammates after the game, with a Sunday afternoon news conference following. But news leaked to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and immediately overtook the Saturday night game.
One fan in the stands removed his No. 12 jersey while others just looked stunned. It was an ugly response for a player who had given so much physically to play the sport, winning 53 regular season games and four playoff games along the way.
Richard Sherman, the San Francisco 49ers cornerback, called the fans’ reaction “disgraceful.”
“This is a very rough game,” he tweeted. “Most people who have not played at this level will never understand what we put our bodies through season after season. We don’t need the sympathy because this is what we signed up for but to ‘boo’ a man that battled for that city is disgraceful.”
For Sherman, it was especially personal because he and Luck had played together at Stanford. “Thank you Drew for everything you gave this game!” he added. “You are an amazing teammate and an even better friend. Wish you nothing but the best in your next endeavor. I know you will be even greater in your next chapter.”
J.J. Watt called the booing “sad” and added, “I hope at some point those fans understand and put themselves in his shoes. He didn’t do it just to do it. It’s an extremely difficult decision.”
It’s also one that Watt, who missed most of the 2016 and 2017 seasons with injuries, said he understands, saying injuries “can have the ability to suck the fun out of the game.”
“It takes an immense amount of courage, immense self-reflection and guts to do what he’s doing,” he told ESPN’s Ed Werder. “Nobody goes though what he goes through, the rehab and injuries. They see the game days. I respect the hell out of it.”
Luck’s enthusiastic style of play cost him physically, with injuries and what he called “a four-year injury cycle” leading him to Saturday night’s announcement. The No. 1 draft pick in 2012, he suffered a lacerated kidney, a partially torn abdominal muscle, at least one concussion, and a shoulder injury (a torn labrum) that sidelined him all of the 2017 season. He fought back and was the NFL’s comeback player of the year in 2018, but had not played in preseason because of a nagging calf/ankle injury.
“Any athlete in any sport that has had a major injury understands exactly where Andrew Luck is mentally,” Torrey Smith, the Carolina Panthers wide receiver, tweeted.
Leonard Fournette, the Jacksonville Jaguars running back, added: “Taking this time sending my prayers to Andrew luck man y’all don’t know how much we put in for this sport, yes it’s draining but than we love it so much at the same time...... #LoveLuck”
Dez Bryant, the former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, called the booing “some disrespectful sick [expletive] on Twitter and added, “that’s not an easy decision to make. … I understand you 100% brotha … take your time … I wish you the best.”
Eric Ebron, the Colts tight end, tweeted a personal take: “Andrew Luck will be somebody I tell my kids about. The person & the player. Respect Andrew.”
Still, fans are going to remember the image of Luck standing with teammates and smiling during the game, not realizing that the news of his retirement had gotten out.
Bears tight end Trey Burton, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery, tweeted that he “was on the field when this happened. These fans are so sad for doing this. Y’all have no clue how injuries affect players. Not everyone recovers the same.”
One user criticized the timing of the news and Burton replied, “What if he didn’t know until now? What if [the] organization knew for a while and was hoping he would change his mind? Just because people don’t agree w timing still doesn’t mean they should disrespect him. ESPECIALLY after all he has done for them.”
Ryan Diem, a former Colts offensive lineman, called the reaction by fans and “keyboard cowboys” to be “downright disrespectful and mean spirited.”
“As a person that has been in his shoes, and had to make that decision to walk away from a game they love, and seen the long term effects the game on people close to them, I 100 percent support his decision and respect it. People that don’t understand need to recognize that we are paid entertainers,” he tweeted.
“I love and respect the passion for the game/city/home team, but when that game starts to affect your ability to function in the real world as a person, then it’s time. Obviously, the timing of this wasn’t great, but I truly believe he was doing everything he could to get back out there this season. The guy is beyond passionate about football, his teammates and the city of Indianapolis. You could see the heartache in his presser. Respect his decision, and quit the hate. He’s going to go on to do amazing things in this world."
Fans no doubt were disappointed at the timing, which arrived so close to the season opener, and unable to understand a player quitting in his prime with hundreds of millions of dollars most likely ahead of him. But with his 30th birthday looming Sept. 12, Luck has quit and owner Jim Irsay admitted that Luck had “spilled blood, sweat and tears” for the team. Of course, he also admitted that he doesn’t rule out Luck changing his mind. Neither does Luck, who said, “I can’t see the future, but I very clearly in my mind see that I won’t.”
Jacoby Brissett steps into Luck’s position and the Colts prepare for the Sept. 8 season opener against the Chargers in Los Angeles.
“For those people that booed tonight, it’s an emotional time and I understand that,” General Manager Chris Ballard said in the team’s news conference. “This young man had done a lot for the city of Indianapolis, and for the Indianapolis Colts. Nobody died. And we keep moving forward.”
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