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Andrew Luck: A Tribute to a Transcendent Talent

Wild Card Playoffs - Kansas City Chiefs v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly (and shockingly) retired on Saturday evening, citing four years of a continuous “injury-pain-rehab” cycle and a painful ankle injury that is simply not progressing.

It is a critical blow for this year’s team and going forward, as Luck was not only the Colts’ franchise player (and undisputed best player) but an instrumental member of a potential Super Bowl contender—both now and for the foreseeable future.

Since being drafted by the Colts with the 1st overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck not only met expectations but until his point, injuries aside, he had surpassed them.

It’s not easy filling the shoes of arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning—ones that are so big they could engulf the entire Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but Luck did just that—and did it his own way to boot.

He never complained.

He never wilted under lofty—maybe even unfair expectations, as a young quarterback prodigy coming to the Colts—following a legend.

If anything, he was the consummate professional.

He never threw his teammates under the bus, and instead always took the blame himself—even at times, when it clearly wasn’t his fault.

He led by example.

A young man who blossomed before our very own eyes and let his actions speak louder than words, as his off-the field charitable work—most notably with Riley’s Children’s Hospital, rivaled his decorated playing career for the Colts.

Despite often playing with a patchwork offensive line, suspect defense, and no running game earlier in his career, Luck led the Colts to two AFC South titles and an AFC Championship Game appearance in 2014.

His team may have often suffered from a lack of talent against the NFL’s elite teams, but they were never out-gunned as having #12 starting under center always gave them at least a fighter’s chance to seemingly win any game against anyone.

He was a 4x Pro Bowler, NFL passing touchdowns leader (2014), and NFL Comeback Player of the Year (just last season)—en route to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in football.

Coming out of Stanford, Luck was the greatest quarterback prospect to come out since Peyton Manning, joining the likes of Manning and John Elway as other once in a generation, “can’t miss” passers.

Except unlike his Colts legendary predecessor, Luck was a different kind of elite quarterback—often looking and playing more like a linebacker than NFL quarterback.

One who could make plays with his legs, just about as well as his golden arm—extending plays while dropping laser throws on a dime.

There was the epic 28 point comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2013 AFC Wild Card game—which is most remembered for Luck recovering a fumble and ‘Super Man’ style diving across the goal line for a touchdown.

There was the 2014 “throw” against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Colts 2014 AFC Wild Card win.

And countless others.

Luck was great once again—as recently as last season, as he overcame any doubts or critics that he was “Charlie Checkdown” and wasn’t fully recovered from his career-threatening shoulder injury.

He threw for 39 passing touchdowns, which was second to only NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes—leading the upstart Colts to the AFC’s Divisional Round (after starting 1-5 on the season).

And while some may question Luck’s pain tolerance or “love for the game”:

He finished (and won) a game playing with a lacerated kidney.

He played multiple games with cracked ribs.

He’s suffered through a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, a partially torn abdomen, and a concussion—among the significant injuries that we at least know of.

There’s not another NFL quarterback I can remember that could appreciate a big hit, as much as he enjoyed dishing them out to opposing defenders after a turnover (until he made a wise career decision to stop doing the latter for his own personal longevity).

Luck was a transcendent talent.

The likes that Colts fans will be lucky to ever see again don the Horseshoe.

Unfortunately, starting behind a shaky offensive line earlier in his career, a reckless playing style, and playing through injuries may have contributed to his lingering and ever-growing list of physical ailments.

However, so did quickly approaching 30, as Luck’s body may simply have had enough as it was no longer able to recover and progress as it may have in his early 20’s—from years spent playing the sport as early as Pop Warner football.

Perhaps it finally balked, and it was screaming at Luck that it was time to slow down—maybe even finally hang up the cleats for good.

It’s also apparent that Luck was simply burned out—both mentally and physically.

The toll of having to undergo another rigorous rehab process was simply too much in his mind (and perhaps walking in pain every day too), especially when there’s no guarantee that another injury simply wouldn’t pop up again.

Luck comes from a well-to-do family, as his father, Oliver Luck, was a former NFL quarterback himself—among his other prominent professional endeavors.

Luck’s incredibly smart as an Architectural Design graduate from Stanford and clearly has interests other than football (including traveling, ping pong, bike riding, snowboarding, and his Andrew Luck Book Club among others).

He’s cultured, having grown up in Europe for a time.

He’s now happily married with a future baby on the way.

He’s already made quite a lot of money already in his NFL career, so financial stability is not an issue.

He doesn’t need football like a lot of other players do, and he probably has a better understanding of the long-term physical health implications than most—especially in an era where more is known about concussions and CTE.

The NFL is a business, and Luck happened to just finally make such a decision for himself.

That being said, it’s really unfortunate that it got to this point, and we’re all surprised we’re actually here.

Luck’s talent is undeniable, but it’s saddening that he’ll be remembered more as Tracy McGrady than Kobe Bryant—even though the former was a great player in his own right—because his injuries and body ultimately gave out.

He belongs in the Colts Ring of Honor some day soon, and hopefully he’s a welcome addition at Colts training camp as a special guest instructor and maybe in other cameo sideline capacities.

As for Colts fans, while Luck’s playing career was cut much shorter than anyone of us reasonably expected (or ever wanted), Luck gave us six incredibly productive and exciting seasons of professional football.

As fans, we aren’t entitled to anything more than that. It’s his life.

While other NFL franchises like the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins went (or have gone) years without successfully filling a void left by a legend, the Colts were lucky enough to land Luck—presenting what many thought would be a seamless transition of legendary starting quarterbacks for decades to come.

Instead Luck’s body ultimately betrayed him, and the Colts are forced to turn to backup Jacoby Brissett once again, but that doesn’t mean fans can’t appreciate the incredible memories, highlights, passion, and joy he gave to both them and the Colts.

It’s simply a shame it had to unfold this way, but sometimes, the good things in life just surprisingly end way too soon.