The year is 2011, and I’m dealing with a wash of an NFL season. Peyton Manning was out for the year and the Indianapolis Colts had zero hope. There were talks of him looking to go elsewhere, so I made sure to pay extra attention to college football.
There was this special guy at Stanford University. Poised, composed, and a dual-threat. Two-time Heisman trophy runner up. That was the year that three different elite quarterbacks emerged in Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson. I’d have been happy with any choice, but Luck seemed like the perfect fit. Sure enough, Peyton left us for the Denver Broncos and we had every reason to use our #1 pick on the bearded genius. There were concerns about what his supporting cast would be, but something about him inspired so much confidence.
His performance echoed that. I had full faith he would be good in the field, but an aggressive playoff run like the one he had in 2012–2013 was a complete 180. New coach, new GM, new quarterback. Luck ushered in the new era of Indy football but it surely didn’t feel like we were going to fall off in terms of talent.
Luck took down the powerhouse Green Bay Packers, scored on that iconic short yard flip into the end zone as seconds wound down against the Detroit Lions, and came within a game of winning the AFC South. All of my friends and fans of rival teams were shocked, impressed, and offered me respect. I boasted he would be a winner, but he followed suit in a major way. Even with the loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, I knew there was more to come.
Luck quickly emerged as someone you could not count out, regardless of the time left on the clock. A calculated comeback kid. One who shines in the moments where some might shrink. He had some rookie tendencies to shake off, but the kid was good in my book.
2013–2014, he put up another 11–5 record and added a division title to the mix. He defeated Peyton Manning in his return to Indy. Luck took down the dominant Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers. He got his playoff win in spectacular fashion, eliminating a 28-point deficit and defeating the Kansas City Chiefs. Sadly, the New England Patriots remained a wall for the horseshoe crew. Luck did all he could. It was the defense. We saw improvement in him, and it was enough to maintain faith.
2014–2015, you should know the deal by now. Another 11–5 record. Division title. Two playoff wins. Beat Peyton Manning again, but this time to make his first AFC championship. There, they met their demise at the hands of the Pats and some deflated footballs. Yes, I’m still salty. But at this point, there couldn’t be a question. Andrew was ready. The Super Bowl was within our grasp. We just needed to fill the roster out more.
2015–2016 he dealt with a nagging shoulder injury and a lacerated kidney. Through the pain, he fought for us. He got us some wins. Luck did his best to put us in position to push for the playoffs. And at 8–8, we were damn close. The sorry Texans got us by one game. It was okay though. He was young and worked his ass off the first three seasons. If one offseason would allow him recovery time so we could come back swinging, it was okay. We were patient. He was more than deserving of that contract extension.
2016, it didn’t feel like he was himself. The team still wasn’t where it needed to be, and we came out 8–8 again. At the time, when many questioned him as a quarterback, I couldn’t. Not after what I had seen since 2012. It wasn’t an issue of his abilities on the field. It was his health. As we’ve seen in the Twitter video going around, Luck loved the game and showed love to players who made a good play. Even when it was at his expense. He was rugged and put his body on the line. It paid dividends.
Evidently, he would need the 2017 season as well. That shoulder needed more time. Better safe than sorry. I couldn’t give up. The Colts embodied resilience and effort. They were missing their leader, but he had to be right on his own before he could elevate all of them.
Then we got 2018. Captain Comeback. People wrote us off after the 1–5 start. Then we won five straight. It seems Luck had found what Dallas Clark had been to Peyton Manning, in Eric Ebron. He pulled off some big division wins toward the end of the season to give us a 10–6 record and finally get back to the playoffs. Whew. And we beat the Texans again in the first round! I was hoping for the 2014 magic we had against the Chiefs but Patrick Mahomes is an animal. It’s fine.
I admire the fight within Andrew Luck. There was never a time he didn’t give the Colts his 110%. To the very end. Of course, I’m shocked and saddened by the sudden retirement. I understand though. I respect it and support it. Us fans never give enough consideration to how the players’ feel. We think millions of dollars and being on tv is enough to keep the love for the game. I think the growing conversations of mental health in sports in addition to scientific discoveries of longtime damage to players should be enough for this decision to make sense.
People say to adjust the style of play, but football is a physical sport. It has to be. Luck wasn’t soft. If they needed three yards and he could get them, he was running for it. It didn’t matter who was in the way and how big they were. Nobody is going to choose you first but yourself. What good is playing the game if you’re never back at 100% and seemingly only making it worse? Yes, the Super Bowl was in our grasp. But there has to be the desire to grab it.
Luck was a fearless leader. A role model. Someone whose characteristics I have tried to adopt and apply to my own life. Lead Like Luck. Be strong on my own and uplift my people. Leave Like Luck. Recognize when something isn’t for me, and leave on good terms or of my own volition. The average NFL career is 3.3 years and six if you make a team’s opening day roster as a rookie. Andrew Luck got just four full seasons and made the playoffs in all of them. He earned accolades and respect. He electrified a city that thought it may be a while before they saw success again. I’m thankful to you.