Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Bucs

Fennelly: Andrew Luck’s retirement speaks to all of us

A young NFL star steps away from what he loved - and what did him in
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck speaks during a news conference following an NFL preseason football game against the Chicago Bears, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in Indianapolis. The oft-injured star is retiring at age 29. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) [MICHAEL CONROY | AP]
Published Aug. 26
Updated Aug. 27

TAMPA — Pro football still reels from the stunning decision by now former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who stepped away from the game he loves and end his cycle of pain.

Hey, I picked Luck for NFL MVP.

Yes, the Bucs might now be able to beat Indianapolis when it comes to town without Luck in early December. Throw in Cam Newton’s injuries and things are looking up. If Drew Brees can turn an ankle stepping on one of his kid’s roller skates …

Forget all that.

Saturday, when Luck stepped away, flushed out when the news broke during a preseason game he wasn’t playing in, then booed in his own stadium by moron fans who once loved him and who now feel robbed, I could only think of what it must have taken to drive this man away from what he loved before he even turns 30.

RELATED STORY: Luck’s retirement stuns Bucs coaches

The NFL should think about it too.

Luck threw 171 touchdowns in 86 games. Only Dan Marino and Aaron Rodgers — a Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer —threw more in the same span of games.

Now he is walking away, while he still can.

Luck’s departure has a bit of a Barry Sanders feel to it. Twenty years ago, Sanders, closing in on the NFL’s all-time rushing record, decided to leave the game to concentrate on being a full-time ghost.

This has that ghostly feel.

RELATED: Current, former NFL players react to Andrew Luck’s retirement

In 1966, Sandy Koufax stepped away from baseball at the height of his powers, done in by an arthritic elbow. People didn’t believe Koufax could retire, but he did, seemingly because he was obsessed with living a normal life, like being able to use his left arm after he was playing.

Like former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax retired in his prime. (AP Photo/Ray Howard) [ROBERT HOUSTON | ASSOCIATED PRESS]

This has that Koufax feel.

“I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,” Luck said. “It’s taken the joy out of this game.”

Football is a brutal game. I’ll be surprised if it’s around by the middle of this century. There is a shield for every player and most of them on it, dragged from the arena. We can talk about these players, casting them from our fantasy teams when they don’t produce, but they go through horrible things in the name of the game, be it for treasure or glory or simply love.

It takes a toll, and sometimes the toll is too great.

That’s what happened to Luck. Injuries piled up. He saw the light. He left with millions of dollars on the table but with his heart and soul intact.

All of this makes us marvel that much more at guys like Brees and Tom Brady, playing in their 40s. When they cut open those two, they’ll find circuit boards.

But football players, our athletic gods, are flesh and blood, and sometimes the blood gushes and the flesh weakens, followed by the heart and mind.

“Knowing his toughness, and his mental toughness, this does surprise me,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, who coached Luck in Indianapolis and who had his own health issues drive him from the NFL at one point. “Something has got to be wrong somewhere because I know he loves the game so much. … To see it is very disheartening.”

He loved the game so much.

But not enough.

Luck has missed a season and a half of playing time because of injuries, including a calf and ankle problem that still hasn’t healed. He missed the entire 2017 season recovering from shoulder surgery. He came back last season and threw 39 touchdown passes, led the Colts back to the playoffs and was named NFL comeback player of the year.

Now he’s not coming back.

“I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,” Luck said. “It’s taken the joy out of this game.”

The NFL can’t afford to lose its young stars. They’re the show. They’re the reason people buy the tickets. But the game eats its own. Stars like Calvin Johnson and Patrick Willis stepped away in the name of their physical and mental health. And now Luck. The butcher’s bill was too high. It almost always is in the NFL.

Players across football reacted to Luck’s instant retirement. They spoke truth as they did.

Leonard Fournette (27) says he knows all too well why Andrew Luck chose to walk away from the game at such a young age. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File) [PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP]

Jacksonville Jaguars runner Leonard Fournette tweeted, “Y’all don’t know how much we put in for this sport,”

Like I said, truth.

Most of us never want to know the butcher’s bill, much less ever have to pay it. We don’t want to know about all those former players’ brains in jars at CTE research labs. We’re always on to the next game.

Stop and listen.

Stop and learn.

Andrew Luck isn’t on to the next game. One day, maybe enough players will step away and there won’t be games anymore. We’re not close to being there, not yet. There are hundreds who’ll still chase the dream and the money.

Luck’s departure probably won’t change that.

He stood as tall as he ever had on the football field as he stepped away from it, from what he loved. But enough was enough. The game did him in.

To see it is very disheartening.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.comor (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.


ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Jameis Winston's future with the Bucs is likely riding on his performance in Tampa Bay's final 10 games. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Bucs coach says he won’t hold back when giving a recommendation at the end of the season.
  2. Not counting his role as the 2012 Indianapolis Colts' interim head coach, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a .652 winning percentage (30-16) after an open week and .538 (21-18) before. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH  |  AP
    Arians’ teams have typically played well coming out of an off week. Tampa Bay will need just that to save its season.
  3. O.J. Howard is one of the few marketable assets the Bucs have at the NFL trade deadline. He's talented, he's being underutilized and Tampa Bay is already paying Cameron Brate $7 million a year at tight end. MONICA HERNDON | Times photo MONICA HERNDON  |  Times
    The odds of making the playoffs are already slim, so Tampa Bay needs to consider upgrading their 2020 draft if the right trade opportunity exists.
  4. Bucs linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul is back. Can he help Tampa Bay get back into NFC playoff contention? MARK LOMOGLIO  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Can JPP save the Bucs’ season? Plus: Can anything save Willie Taggart in Tallahasse? Why couldn’t the Yankees save themselves?
  5. Could Cam Newton be the Bucs starting quarterback next season? One betting service has set the odds at 25:1.
    But they’ve labeled other contenders as potential starters for Tampa Bay
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard, top, is tackled by Los Angeles Rams strong safety John Johnson during the first of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ  |  AP
    Tampa Bay reportedly rebuffed New England’s interest in third-year tight end O.J. Howard.
  7. Bucs receiver Bredshad Perriman will look to return to action against Tennessee on Sunday. MARK LOMOGLIO  |  AP
    But will the Bucs have the right tackle and No. 3 receiver in the lineup on Sunday against Tennessee?
  8. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, seen running runs onto the field before the team's game against the Panthers in London, may be running out of time with Tampa Bay. TIM IRELAND  |  AP
    The former 1-2 draft picks are draft-bust brothers.
  9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) watches warm ups before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium on August 23, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Once sidelined by a fireworks accident, the Pro Bowl pass rusher now looks to bounce back from a May car accident
  10. The XFL released its 40-game 2020 regular-season schedule Tuesday. XFL
    The team will play the first of its five regular-season home games Feb. 22. Single-game tickets go on sale Thursday.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement