The Indianapolis Colts have done their best to try and overcome the retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck in 2019. But despite adding potentially two Hall of Fame signal callers over the last two years, the Colts are still looking for their first playoff win since the end of the Luck era and a long-term solution behind center.
With the Colts still in flux at quarterback, staff writer Zak Keefer of The Athletic decided to take a look back at Luck’s career and try to answer why “the greatest quarterback prospect since John Elway” left the NFL before turning 30.
Keefer answered that question over a six-episode podcast series, which was released on July 11. At the end of the series, Keefer concluded Luck retired early because of perspective and perfection.
“[After] all the interviews, all the reporting, the six episodes you spent listening to this series, there remains one last question,” Keefer said. “Why did Andrew Luck retire so early?
“It comes down to two things — perspective and perfection.”
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Luck The Perfect Football Player, Not the Perfect Quarterback
One of the biggest overall themes of Keefer’s entire podcast series, which is available for free on Apple podcasts, was about how Luck enjoyed the entire game of football, especially the physicality. Stanford coach David Shaw shared a lot of stories about Luck’s physical nature in college, including when he made a huge hit on USC defender Shareece Wright following a fumble in a game during 2010.
Football is a physical game, and, in his mind at least, Luck was just another one of the guys on the team.
“As a football player, he never thought he was anymore important than anybody else on the field. Luck wanted to take the hit, needed to take the hit to show his teammates, to show his coaches, maybe even to show himself, that’d he’d do anything to win,” Keefer said at the end of the podcast series. “But there’s a reason quarterbacks don’t take those types of hits.
“The pounding wears them down over time. And the list of Luck’s injuries is brutal to read even now.”
Keefer revealed those injuries in great detail. In 2015, Luck suffered a lacerated kidney that caused him to pee blood and a partially torn abdomen. During 2016, he played most of the season with a torn labrum and suffered at least one concussion.
Early in his career, he also tore cartilage in two ribs that required Luck to undergo painkilling shots.
“Luck’s quest to become this perfect football player left him an imperfect quarterback, and it cost him,” Keefer said. “And the fact that the Colts took six years, SIX YEARS, to get a decent offensive line, didn’t help.”
The injury that broke Luck was a calf strain that turned into a posterior ankle impingement in 2019. Keefer described how Luck’s calf was causing him pain and the team doctors didn’t understand why.
“At the end of the day, football was beaten out of him,” said Keefer.
More to Life than Football for Luck
Luck broke just about every stereotype for NFL quarterbacks. He was a nerd in every sense of the word. He spent a lot of his childhood overseas and went to Stanford. During his playing career, he hosted a book club podcast.
In the third episode of the Luck podcast series, Colts reporter Stephen Holder of ESPN told a story about how the quarterback once read a book about concrete.
While the podcast series portrays Luck as in love with football early in his life, he clearly had other interests. Going through a long list of injuries and then getting married in 2019, Keefer argued that Luck gaining perspective was the second reason for his early retirement.
Keefer pointed to an answer Luck provided to a question about a month before his departure from the game as a clue for his added perspective.
“To be the best quarterback I want to be, to help this team like I want to help them, I can’t be … I’m not looking for average, and if I’m going out here with pain, I’ll be average,” Luck said to reporters. “I will feel like an average quarterback and I will be an average quarterback.
“That’s not good enough for me, that’s not good enough for this club.”
It’s almost like if Luck couldn’t be perfect, he didn’t want to play anymore.
“In his mind, he’d be selling himself short and selling the team short,” said Keefer.
Luck also gave Keefer a very interesting answer when the staff writer asked him about why he was smiling after losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2018-19 playoffs. That ended up being Luck’s final game in the NFL.
“Something I learned last year (2017) was that if my worth as a human was going to be tied to how I did, the result of a performance in a football game, then I was going to have, and pardon my French, a real s***** life,” said Luck.
Listen to Keefer’s entire podcast series on Luck’s early retirement.