Earlier today, the Indianapolis Star published an article by Zak Keefer exploring how Colts quarterback Andrew Luck struggled through being unable to play during the second half of last season. It’s a very good look at the Colts quarterback, who loves to play the game but was unable to for nine games last year, and how he’s more motivated than ever entering this season.
One of the prevailing themes of the article was about how Luck felt like he was letting everyone down by being on the sidelines, even though he had suffered a lacerated kidney. “You just feel like you’re letting your teammates and your coaches down,” Luck told Keefer. “You’re used to being in control. As quarterbacks, we all have control issues.”
That’s just who Andrew Luck is, and it raises a point that I don’t think many people fully considered: 2016 was really, really rough for Luck. Not just because he didn’t play well (which he knows and admits), but also because he missed so much time and because he feels like he let his team down. When he was injured, the Colts were 4-5 and very much in the playoff race. To then be relegated to the sidelines watching the season fall apart with back-to-back 35 point losses and a crushing home defeat against the Texans? That had to be agonizing for Luck. As Keefer wrote, “for the first time as a pro, Luck couldn’t slip on his Superman suit and save the Colts.”
To go on top of that, Luck feels like he failed offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, with whom Luck was close going back to their days together at Stanford and who was followed midway through last season. “I feel like I failed him,” Luck admitted. That feeling almost extended to head coach Chuck Pagano, too, as rumors swirled that Jim Irsay would make a change. Instead - to the delight of the players - Irsay kept the head coach around. “I think Mr. Irsay showed a lot of guts keeping Coach Pagano and Ryan [Grigson],” Luck told Keefer. “I think the easy thing is to start all over, I really do. I think that was an awesome, gutsy move. I think it surprised me, but then again, I think any decision would’ve surprised me.”
The article paints the picture of a quarterback who simply wants to play football. Last year drove Luck crazy not being able to play, and more than that he felt like he let his teammates and coaches down. That’s the kind of player you want representing and leading your franchise, as he demands accountability of himself first and foremost. He knows he should have played better and he knows the “what if” questions about how the season may have been different had he stayed healthy. He doesn’t want to let his teammates down, and so he has a chip on his shoulder entering the 2016 season after feeling like he failed them last year.
Furthermore, he doesn’t let the fact that he’s a superstar quarterback who just received the largest contract in NFL history get in the way of him being a good teammate playing a team sport. He knows it takes everyone, not just him. “That’s why I think it’s the greatest sport in the world,” he told Keefer. “I can never do what T.Y. [Hilton] does, but I trust him to be in the right spot at the right time. I could never do what Anthony Castonzo does — I’d have no idea! Or Robert Mathis or Erik Walden. I’m never even on the field with them. But we trust each other. It’s a two-way thing. I love that.”
Teammates can respect that. What they appreciate most about the guy they simply refer to as “12” in the locker room: His authenticity. With Luck there is no façade. Linemen don’t mind blocking for a quarterback who now rakes in an average of $23 million a year but shows up first to work every day in sandals and a hoodie, carries around a beat-up flip-phone (yes, he still has it) and a Velcro wallet with his college logo on it. Sometimes, he forgets to shave his beard. Other times, he’s just too lazy. He’s unnecessarily critical of himself but never of teammates, even if they deserve it. He detests the spotlight that comes with being a star quarterback. The man just wants to play football and go home and read a book.
It’s a terrific read on Andrew Luck and his rough 2016 season, and I think it’s pretty obvious to see what makes him a good leader in the locker room. As the franchise quarterback, he knows that he needs to play at an elite level and that he has a responsibility to put the Colts in the best position to win each week. He didn’t do that last year, and he knows it. He also knows that he couldn’t help them whatsoever while he was sitting on the sidelines, and that frustrated him. He knows that he let his teammates and coaches down, and he doesn’t want to do it again. He knows that it’s not all about him, instead trusting his teammates and allowing them to do their respective jobs. After reading that, it should be no surprise to anyone that Luck’s teammates love him. You want a leader to demand the best out of himself first, to feel a responsibility to his teammates, and to trust them and allow them to play their game. You want a leader who remains humble despite all of the praise and (now) all of the money he receives. You want a leader who’s going to do everything it takes to win football games, and when he doesn’t do that, will be frustrated. That’s Andrew Luck. And hopefully, that chip on his shoulder will translate to a career year in 2016.