Andrew Luck shocked the world Saturday night by retiring. Well, Adam Schefter shocked the world at 9:28 p.m. ET Saturday when he tweeted the news that Luck was retiring. It was such a surprise that one of Luck’s best friends, Matt Hasselbeck, told me Sunday, “I thought Adam Schefter got hacked. I was sitting there watching the college game Saturday night and saw it. It stopped me in my tracks. Stunned. I was in Indy on Friday, and I got no sense of this.”
Luck’s two statements, 15 days apart, say that this was a bolt out of the blue—either that or that he wasn’t being straight with me. Those two statements sound incongruous. How could such a great quarterback, coming off his best pro season at just 29 years old, make what appeared to be such an impulsive decision? Though I did not speak with Luck this weekend, I don’t think it was impulsive, I do think he was being straight with me, and I understand how Luck’s world could totally flip in two weeks. I think it began flipping a few days after we spoke.
The same day Luck told me there was no doubt he’d play in the opener, Reich told me Luck’s latest injury, to his left calf, was “like child’s play” compared to his return after all his shoulder issues. But in the days after Luck talked to me in training camp, he felt more pain in rehab. Further examination revealed a more extensive and slightly mysterious injury stretching from the calf to his ankle. There would be no quick fix. More rehab, and a good chance he’d either have to play hobbled, and in significant pain, if he played at the start of the season. And if he didn’t play to start the season, he’d be a question mark hovering over the franchise, as he’d been in 2015 (shoulder injury, fractured ribs, kidney laceration), 2016 (played through shoulder pain all year), 2017 (missed the year after labrum surgery) and the off-season and training camp of 2018 (shoulder soreness). Then four months of feeling good and playing great. Then, when he ramped up workouts for 2019, last March, this calf/ankle thing appeared and just wouldn’t go away.
Put it this way: For about 42 of the last 47 months, dating back to the original shoulder injury in September 2015, football meant pain to Andrew Luck. Not joy. Pain. As Luck described Saturday night: “It’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and off-season … Taken the joy out of the game. And after 2016, when I played in pain and was unable to regularly practice, I made a vow to myself that I will not go down that path again.”
Which led Luck to Irsay’s office last Monday. The meeting last a little more than two hours. Ballard and Reich soon realized this was not I think I’m going to retire. This was, It’s over.
There was a time in Monday’s meeting when options were suggested. One of them: Take his time healing the right way without hurrying, and go on IR with a return designation, meaning he could return for the last two months of the season if he got healthy. That seemed to make the most sense—he’d have nine weeks from now to see if the calf/ankle could be fixed, and the Colts would have been more than happy to take the risk of paying $21.25 million for Luck to try to play in 2019, with backup Jacoby Brissett taking some or all the snaps this season. But whatever alternatives got suggested, Luck, one of the smartest players in any sport, seemed immovable.
“My mind’s made up,” he said.
One other clue on the timeline: Luck said he didn’t imagine retiring till two weeks ago. But once he started thinking about it, one source said, it made more and more sense to him. He was tired. He felt like if it wasn’t one thing, it’d be another.
Reich and Ballard both spent time between Tuesday and Friday feeling out Luck about whether he’d reconsider—he never wavered—and then making sure Luck was sure he wanted to do it now. He did. Neither Reich nor Ballard would disclose the contents of their conversations with Luck. But late in the week, Reich said, he and Luck had a longer meeting in the coach’s office, an emotional meeting.
“It’s like we were saying goodbye,” Reich said from his office Sunday afternoon. “I knew, knew in my heart, he wasn’t going to change his mind. He seemed to have great clarity and peace.”