- Luck isn’t the first player to walk away from football in what should have been his prime, but his decision is already making other players think a bit harder about their profession.
INDIANAPOLIS — All that’s left in the locker that used to belong to Andrew Luck are some black and white plastic hangers, bunched up on the right side of the otherwise bare hanging rod. His blue and white Colts nameplate has been removed from the clear plastic holder above the locker, and all of his gear and belongings are gone.
Music plays from a speaker, and across the locker room, linebacker Darius Leonard playfully shouts at teammates. Left tackle Anthony Constanzo jokes around with fellow linemen Ryan Kelly and Mark Glowinski not far from Luck’s old locker on this Tuesday afternoon. This is the callous short-term memory that football players possess. In a little over a week, there will be a real game to play. Next man up.
Head coach Frank Reich said Tuesday was the first day things started to feel like business as usual since news of Luck’s retirement spread on Saturday night. “Emotionally, it felt like a more normal day,” he said. “Now that all the announcements have been made and everything’s been done, I think we’re just in the mode, ‘OK, let’s just get ready for the season.’”
Receiver T.Y. Hilton, one of Luck’s closest teammates, agreed. He’s starting to heal from the shock. “I’m all good, I’m OK,” he said. “I had a couple days, [it took me] like four or five days to get back right.”
“I’m glad he made a decision and made it clearer for the team,” Leonard says. “Because we didn’t know, was he gonna go or not? So I’m glad he made it clearer and now we can move forward.”
Though Luck’s presence in the Colts locker room is already erased and his team is pushing ahead without him, his decision to prioritize his health will have a long-term impact on players in Indianapolis and beyond.
In the wake of Luck’s retirement, receiver Chester Rogers says he’s had several conversations with friends playing for other teams who are in similar situations as Luck, struggling through a series of endless injuries. “Absolutely, there are a lot of players who feel this way,” Rogers says. “Players on different teams have expressed that to me. Man, I actually feel the same way Andrew feels. I'm waking up in pain every single day, taking all this kind of pain medicine and fighting every day just to practice.”
These are conversations Rogers says he never had with other players before Luck stood at the podium Saturday night and emotionally described the cycle of injuries and rehab that have made him feel trapped and powerless. “Andrew probably opened the door for a lot of folks,” Rogers says. “A lot of players that feel that way, that are scared and don't want to take the criticism, it's going to show them don't be afraid to put your health first.”
Luck isn’t the first NFL player to leave the game in what should be his prime. But Luck’s decision is especially meaningful because he’s a quarterback—the most important position in the NFL—playing in an era where quarterbacks are protected like never before and because of it, playing longer careers than ever before. Luck, who Reich says will no longer rehab his injury with the Colts medical staff, broke new ground as a quarterback. If the most important player to the franchise musters the courage to leave his team, what’s to stop others feeling the same way?
“It would be unreasonable to think it wouldn't have some sort of effect,” right tackle Joe Haeg says. “I'm sure there have been plenty of quarterbacks within the last 20 or 30 years that have been like, I want to retire so bad, I'm done with football, I don't like football, but they still keep playing because they feel like they have to. Maybe players will use this as a reference, or maybe even talk to Andrew himself at some point and say, are you happy you did it?”
Three lockers to the right of Luck’s old station, Jacoby Brissett, the Colts' new starting quarterback, gets dressed for practice. He says he hasn’t thought of his NFL career any differently in light of Luck’s retirement because, “it’s all circumstantial.” He’s 26 years old, and he still experiences the joy from football that Luck has lost with his latest injury. Brissett ties his cleats, puts his wristband, a banana and a life water inside his helmet, and carries it like a basket as he bounds out to practice.
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