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Andrew Luck opens up about what led to him retiring from the NFL

Andrew Luck will forever go down as a "what if" but still knows it was the right choice

When Andrew Luck burst onto the scene as an elite college quarterback at Stanford, his life changed forever.

He was widely regarded as one of the best quarterback prospects ever, drawing comparisons to John Elway and Peyton Manning. The latter being the ghost he was destined to chase after the Indianapolis Colts selected him with No. 1 overall pick. 

Luck found instant success in the NFL, and ended up making four Pro Bowls, winning playoff games and holding numerous records. However, despite the thought around the football world that he challenge for the GOAT spot and would continue to battle with the titans of the sport such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and whoever the next group of great quarterbacks were, Luck retired at 29. A move that shocked the sports world, and has since led to him being labeled as one of the biggest "what ifs" in sports history. 

Luck addressed the media following the decision and then seemed to disappear into oblivion being spotted in the public eye every once in a while, but always leaving sports fans wondering "why?" Injuries plagued Luck during his stint in the NFL, but retiring at the peak of his career just was unfathomable. 

On Tuesday, the world finally got some clarity thanks to a great piece written by ESPN's Seth Wickersham. The article delves into Luck's thought process surrounding his whole career, a career that he expressed moved at light speed saying:

"What I didn't allow myself to explore enough was how much I loved football," he says.

 Luck explained that much of his identity and the way he viewed himself was predicated on the fact that he was a quarterback. Being the best quarterback he could be also weighed heavily on him as explained by Wickersham:

Luck's most natural version of himself was to be one of the guys, he says. But what worked at Stanford didn't work in the NFL. He felt too much pressure, and had to convince himself that he had "some level of control over the outcome" of a random game. So he became someone he didn't want to be -- or, specifically, he tapped into a part of his personality he didn't always relish. He ran offensive meetings. He was so involved in blocking and route-running techniques that players nicknamed him the assistant tight ends coach. 

He continued saying:

 He simplified his life to extremes, using a flip phone. He and his agent and uncle, Will Wilson, turned down most endorsements until he felt that he had accomplished something in the league. Trying to control every variable extended to dinners out with teammates, where he'd order for everyone without being asked. "To play quarterback, you're not allowed to worry about anything except the task at hand," Luck says. "And that seeps into other areas of life. It's not the healthiest way to live."

Controlling the narrative of life wasn't just reserved for football and his media appearances, but also seeped into his relationship with his now wife Nicole. Luck explained that he chose her path for her due to his worry of her having to deal with being a public figure. 

However, his career and life changed forever after a hit in the third game of the 2015 season by Tennessee Titans defensive end Brian Orakpo. He tore his labrum forcing him to miss nine games. Wickersham explained that the following season Luck made everyone believe he was healthy and ready to go despite injuring that same shoulder snowboarding. He masked the pain to everyone else, but he was unable to escape how it made him feel:

Luck's mind started to anticipate torment as he threw, and he wondered if it was his brain preemptively shutting down his body in those split seconds between spotting an open receiver and delivering the ball. Watching other quarterbacks throw sometimes made Luck cringe. The Colts' preseason opener that August against the Packers was cancelled due to poor field conditions, and Luck was secretly relieved to not have to throw in warmups. 

In 2017 despite Colts owner Jim Irsay assuring everyone that Luck was fully healed, it was quite the opposite for the quarterback. His shoulder still wasn't at full strength. 

It was explained that every method that Luck calculated as the way to maximize his performance, and make him one of the greats was in fact hurting him more. The more he pushed and pushed, the worse he got. Wickersham explained that doctors from all over desired to carve open Luck, but the one thing he needed the most to help heal was time. A trainer by the name of Willem Kramer who had worked with Luck finally told him that he wouldn't rehab him again, but that the quarterback needed to change his environment saying:

"Just you, Nicole, and your shoulder."

That change of scenery came in the Netherlands. A place where Luck was away from the pressures, obligations, and overall expectations that he was attempting to adhere to by any means necessary. In the process of healing and getting back to football he was distancing himself from Nicole, who explained:

"I didn't have a place to contribute because Andrew wouldn't communicate,"

The former elite gymnast at Stanford who had to walk away from her sport due to injuries could actually relate to Luck's situation, but he wouldn't let her. With Nicole ready to walk away from the relationship, Wickersham explained that Luck finally broke down. Luck explained:

"There were some things that when I looked in the mirror, I did not like about myself," he says. "I was self-absorbed, withdrawn, in pain, and feeling pressure."

Kramer also questioned Luck and made him think of himself in a way he hadn't before, something other than just a quarterback. After the six weeks, which Luck now refers to as "Holland", Luck returned to the Colts in 2017, promising himself that he would prioritize his body and mind and wife-to-be first. However, that mindset was no match for the desire he felt to be a great quarterback. He was eventually connected with renowned throwing coach Tom House, who explained how difficult the process was saying:

"All I had to do was fiddle with Andrew's mechanics," House says. "And then try to figure out what was going on mentally and emotionally."

After a ton of work with House, Luck was finally able to throw without pain again. Something that he hadn't felt in years and was finally able to translate to the field in 2018 when the Colts went  10-6, and even won a playoff game. However, Wickersham explained that following an ankle injury the entire process that Luck, Nicole, Kramer, and everyone else involved restarted saying:

 He was a "spoiled child," Kramer says, sulking and scared, not only because of chronic pain but because of how he acted in chronic pain, a resentment less toward his body for failing to hold up and more toward himself. It wasn't just a matter of getting his foot to cooperate; it was that he knew what he was headed for if it did.

After the realization that it was happening again, it finally dawned on Luck that he no longer desired to play football. Wickersham explained that others around him wanted him to continue but it was too late saying:

Luck told his family and close friends. Wilson advised him to sleep on it. When they spoke two days later, Luck was resolute. Ballard tried to appeal to Luck's competitive fire, but it was gone. Reich implored him to not rush a big decision, but Luck didn't think it had been rushed. When Wilson met with Ballard to finalize the paperwork, both men cried. 

The following week during a preseason game ESPN's Adam Schefter broke the news, despite Luck's plan to do it the following day. The crowd booed, his teammates finding out in the locker room were perplexed. 

Luck read a letter he had written for this moment, and then began to do life as a non-quarterback. He traveled, became closer with his familiar, and upgraded his flip phone to an iPhone. He went to therapy and learned he doesn't need to have clarity. Something he said he might not ever know in regards to whether it was the right choice saying:

"I doubt I will ever find the answers," he says. "All of them. Or any answers."

Wicherksham explained that in the mind of Luck that was okay, and that he is now focused on other things in life such as being a parent and husband. He became passionate about football again, but in an outsiders perspective. 

His shoulder injury in 2015 changed everything for Luck, and while he the quarterback in him didn't appreciate that at the time, it seems safe to say that Luck is content now.