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Ward: Don’t blame Andrew Luck for retiring

| Tuesday, August 27, 2019

In the 2011 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts began to drift towards mediocrity. Fresh off of a Super Bowl appearance at the end of the 2009 season and a promising future on the horizon, I sat at home every weekend that year wondering if the Colts would ever be as good as they once were with a healthy Peyton Manning. The Colts’ so called ‘motto’ that season quickly turned into “Suck for Luck.” At my ripe young age, I thought it was absolutely ludicrous that a team would intentionally lose for any reason; it just seemed to spoil the spirit of the game. I hardly even knew who Andrew Luck was. Stanford’s star quarterback who clobbered a corner after his running back gave up a fumble? So why would the Indianapolis Colts want him? I was too young to fully understand what was unfolding in front of me.

Manning seemed to be aging and aging fast. Manning had surgery on his neck in May of 2011 and was unable to use the Colts’ practice facilities during his rehabilitation due to the NFL lockout. Manning was not back to full health by the time the regular season rolled around, and the Colts would sign Kerry Collins out of retirement to take the role of starting quarterback while Manning was on injury reserve. The Colts would go 2-14 on the season. Colts owner Jim Irsay would go on to fire president Bill Polian, ending his 33-year professional football tenure, until he helped co-found the now defunct Alliance of American Football last year. The Indianapolis Colts had never been this deep in the dumps. 

Irsay had some tough decisions to make. He brought aboard Ryan Grigson as general manager. Jim Caldwell was let go and Chuck Pagano took his position at head coach. Irsay also released older once elite players including Joesph Addai, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett and Anthony Gonzolez. Irsay’s biggest looming problem was the upcoming draft pick. He had essentially two choices — to go against the grain and take Robert Griffin III, the incredibly talented scrambler out of Baylor, or the more well rounded dual-threat quarterback out of Stanford, Luck. Irsay chose the latter, and just as Colts fans thought their miseries were behind them, they were slowly boiling back up beneath them. 

Pagano would battle Leukemia that year. The Colts fanbase and the whole of the NFL would rally around Chuck and his family in support. Luck would show little to no lack of productivity on the professional field save for a few interceptions, but the blame for these turnovers could easily be placed on the offensive line who gave up a whopping 41 sacks on their rookie quarterback during his first season. This didn’t seem to bother Luck too much, a man who loved and respected the game so much that he would regularly congratulate defenders who had just laid him out. The sportsmanship Luck displayed throughout his entire career was almost laughable, as more and more players around the NFL were going for the alpha approach.

After inheriting a 2-14 team, Luck would lead the 2012 Colts to the playoffs where they would lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, finishing the season with an 11-5 record. Luck would go on throughout his career, proving himself worthy as an elite NFL quarterback. So why would the franchise who protected Manning so heavily all while running a hurry-up offense have the negligence to not protect their new star? Why would a team intentionally tank during the regular season for a draft pick if they don’t have the means to nurture and develop the athlete without him suffering extensively? I don’t know the answers to these questions. The only people who know these answers are Irsay and Grigson. 

These two men decided to pick up Luck and try and hack the system. It appears they thought he was some sort of tank who just loved getting hit. In the 2015 season, Luck’s body had had enough of the beatings. He suffered a shoulder injury early on in the season but returned after just two weeks. The team player would refuse to abandon his squad. After Luck’s return, the Colts lost their next two games but would bounce back by beating the previously undefeated Denver Broncos. Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle in the contest. What did he do the play after? He threw a touchdown. Luck even took the blame for his injury, saying he needed to improve upon his sliding.

Luck was benched for the rest of the season due to his injury, and the Colts would miss their first playoffs with him on the roster. The next season Luck signed a six-year extension worth $140 million with $87 million guaranteed which made him the highest-paid player in the league. I’m sure Luck would’ve been fine taking less. I mean, the man still has a flip phone. I think he would be willing to give up some cash for a healthy body, but Colts executives thought differently; they bet all their chips on Luck.

Luck’s shoulder injury would plague him throughout the 2016 season, and he underwent surgery immediately following the end of the season. Luck would miss the 2017 season and even travel to Europe to seek further treatment for his right shoulder. He returned in 2018 to lead his team to a divisional playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Colts lost 31-13 to the Chiefs in what would be Luck’s final game as a Colt. Luck made the Pro Bowl roster and was given the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award by the Pro Football Writers Association. 

I returned home this summer with Colts training camp just a few miles down the road from my house. The buzz around Luck was undeniable. It was all anyone talked about. Would we be okay with Brisset and Kelly? Will Luck even start this year? As the days of training camp wained on, it became more and more evident that Luck may have some more serious issues. The suspicions of Colts fans were true, and just as training camp closed to the public, their worst nightmare came true. Luck will be departing the NFL, leaving a hole that nobody will be able to fill. I am deeply saddened by the actions of the Colts fan base following his announcement. I would even go so far to say that shame should be felt by any Colts “fan” who booed Luck out of Lucas Oil Stadium. We should all be thanking Andrew Luck for what he has done for not just the city of Indianapolis, but for the whole state of Indiana, and even the entirety of the National Football League. Thank you Mr. Luck.

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About Jimmy Ward

Jimmy is a senior at Holy Cross College, where he studies English and sports management. He is originally from Westfield, Indiana. Currently, Jimmy serves as an associate sports editor at The Observer. You can find him at @jimmyyward on Twitter.

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