August 11, 2020, 19:54

Andrew Luck: A career of hope, disappointment and what-ifs

Andrew Luck: A career of hope, disappointment and what-ifs

“It’s taken my joy of this game away,” said Andrew Luck at his out-of-the-blue retirement press conference on Sunday.

“I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live.”

The 29-year-old’s retirement was unexpected, but not entirely surprising given his history of injuries.

  • Luck retires after ‘four years of pain’
  • Colts turn page to ‘rare leader’ Brissett

His career should be regarded a successful one – in six seasons of playing, he reached the playoffs and the Pro Bowl four times, was the NFL’s passing touchdown leader in 2014, and Comeback Player of the Year in 2018.

He had a 53-33 regular-season record, and leaves having averaged the second-most passing yards per game of all time (275.2) behind Drew Brees. And what is evident now more than ever is that he did most of it while playing through pain and not at his physical best.

However, while Luck’s career was one of great moments, hope and potential, there is also a sense of great disappointment. There were so many missed opportunities, and ‘what-ifs’ – and there’s no doubt those questions will continue now he’s gone.

Tremendous expectations

Stanford’s record-setting quarterback was one of the most obvious and uncontested No 1 overall NFL Draft picks in history. Draft expert Tony Pauline called him the best quarterback since Peyton Manning (drafted in 1998). Mel Kiper Jr even said he was the best since 1983 top pick – and also former Stanford QB – John Elway.

Colts fans’ “suck for Luck” campaign is well-documented. With starter Manning sidelined for the 2011 season, Indianapolis collectively hoped for losses each and every week so they could secure Luck in the 2012 Draft.

They did get him – and while Manning took his talents to Denver and provided them with a Super Bowl – Luck was tasked with matching Manning, and outperforming a quarterback class that consisted of Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins, among others.

Early peaks

Through his first three seasons, there’s no doubt Luck lived up to expectations. Colts fans were used to postseason football under Manning – they’d made the playoffs for nine straight seasons with the Hall of Famer at the helm – and Luck brought them back in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

They went one better in each of those seasons, losing in the Wild Card round, Divisional round and Championship game in that order, but Luck was at the peak of his powers.

In year two, he orchestrated the second-biggest comeback in NFL history with a 28-point turnaround against the Chiefs in the playoffs. Year three was a 40-touchdown campaign, and only Bill Belichick and Tom Brady (and some deflated footballs) were able to stop Luck’s Colts.

After those three years, so early in a quarterback’s career, Indianapolis fans – and the football world – expected Super Bowls from Luck. Then his “four years of pain” began.

The decline

In Week Three of the 2015 season, Luck suffered the all-important shoulder injury that haunted him through two seasons and caused him to miss all of 2017.

Even after a two-game absence from the initial problem, he continued to play until a kidney laceration cut his season short.

The 2016 campaign – in which Luck played 15 games but hardly practised – was one he vowed never to repeat. His numbers suffered, and the Colts dropped to 8-7 with no playoff appearance.

Ultimately, Luck opted for surgery to repair the torn right labrum, and sat out all of 2017 despite returning to practice in October.

That was thought to have been the end of it.

What followed was what we had come to expect as a typical season from the cool, calm QB.

He tossed 39 touchdowns – the second-most of his career – and managed over 4,500 yards and an above-average 98.7 quarterback rating. The Comeback Player of the Year returned to the Pro Bowl, and the Colts returned to the playoffs.

Despite falling to Patrick Mahomes and the red-hot Chiefs in the Divisional round, hope had returned to Indianapolis.

Andrew Luck was back, and the Colts were contenders again.

But Sunday’s shock news means we won’t get to see a career we all hoped and expected to play out for potentially another decade.

What could have been?

Last season, the Colts boasted arguably the best offensive line they’ve ever had in front of Luck, had surrounded him with playmakers, and had one of the league’s top defenses.

T.Y. Hilton has managed at least 69 catches and 1,000 yards in six of the last seven seasons. Eric Ebron is coming off a 13-touchdown campaign. Second-year guard Quenton Nelson might already be the best in the league at his position, and sophomore Darius Leonard was a first-team All-Pro in his first year.

The team is set up for long-term success and filled with young stars. Just how many more seasons of great play could Luck have had if he was able to stay healthy?

For the Colts, everything changes. When general manager Chris Ballard took over in 2017, he did so with his heart set on protecting and getting the most from his star prize. Now the team will look to Jacoby Brissett, the same man who stepped in for Luck in 2017.

That season, Brissett had a 4-11 record, completed only 58.8 per cent of his passes, and threw just 13 touchdowns. He’s older now, and more experienced, and Ballard has called him a “rare leader” who the locker room loves. However, he’s no Luck.


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