By Nancy Armour |
Anyone who has ever been jilted unexpectedly will recognize Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay’s deluded optimism that Andrew Luck might someday return.
Michael Jordan changed his mind, Irsay noted Saturday night. Brett Favre made it an annual event. Ben Watson’s retirement didn’t even last the offseason, while Josh McCown decided to give the NFL another go after two months.
“I don’t rule it out,” Irsay said. “Because as quickly as this thing sort of descended upon us, and as mysterious as it was coming upon us, it could leave the same way. … I would say it’s possible.”
Of course it’s possible. Luck is not even 30, and there will come a time when his body is no longer battered and aching and the psychological scars from all of those injuries have faded.
But the reality is that Luck’s goodbye is almost certainly final, not one he will reconsider or even second-guess.
Luck has always been a different sort of athlete – in the best sense of the phrase. While there was never any denying how much football meant to him, it also was never the only thing in his life. That was clear in early 2011, when everyone just assumed he would forgo his senior season at Stanford to be the NFL’s No. 1 pick.
He’d led the Cardinal to a 12-1 record, Stanford’s best season since 1940, and finished second to Cam Newton in the Heisman Trophy voting. His coach, Jim Harbaugh, was about to leave for the NFL, and there was no reason to think Luck wouldn’t be far behind.
Except there were other things equally important to Luck as playing in the NFL, even being its No. 1 pick.
“It’s a Rorschach test for people’s values system,” Luck’s father, Oliver, told The New York Times after his son’s stunning announcement that he was staying at Stanford for his senior year.
Fascinated by the look of different buildings since he was a child, he wanted to finish his degree in architectural design. He also enjoyed the bubble-like atmosphere at Stanford, where he was noticed and occasionally fawned over but was still allowed to be an ordinary college student.
Even after he went to the NFL – still as the No. 1 pick – he was not caught up in the trappings of the game or the celebrity afforded its marquee players. He famously hung on to his flip phone and avoided social media.
He gave a new definition to the term “cerebral quarterback” when he started a virtual book club at the behest of fans who heard him talk of his love for reading. Each month, he’d make a recommendation for “rookie” (younger) and “veteran” (older) readers. Many of the choices were weighty, books designed to open someone’s mind to the world and test his or her assumptions about it.
The selections for August: Terry Pratchett’s “Nation,” about refugees from opposite sides of the globe, and John Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood,” which chronicles the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her fraudulent startup Theranos.
Almost every offseason, Luck would return to Europe, where he’d spent most of his childhood while Oliver Luck ran the NFL’s offshoot there. He reveled in his anonymity there, as well as the opportunity to soak up Europe’s culture and history. The soccer enthusiast would also go to Premier League games, and fans spotted him following the U.S. men’s team during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
All of this is to say that not only was Luck’s decision not made lightly, something that was clear listening to his anguished news conference Saturday night, but that he has an advantage over so many other players who leave football only to find they no longer know where the game they have loved for so long ends and they begin.
Luck has outside interests, many of them. Though he won’t want for money, he also has the blueprint for building the next part of his life from his father, a former NFL quarterback who has gone on to become a successful executive in both collegiate and professional sports.
“Excited for Andrew Luck. The next phase is going to be an amazing one for him. Super intelligent and fun guy,” former NFL tight end Martellus Bennett, who has, among other things, written children’s books since retiring in 2018, said on Twitter.
Luck and wife Nicole are also expecting their first child, something that no doubt factored into his decision to leave the game now. At some point, he might feel a pull to return so his son or daughter can see him play. But Luck being Luck, that sentimentality will be outweighed by his desire to see them grow up.
When something unexpected occurs, it’s natural to imagine an alternate outcome. But that can only be wishful thinking in Luck’s case. He’s gone, and he’s not coming back.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.