Let the record show, not every fan booed. I was there Saturday night, and although a preseason game, it turned out to be one of the oddest experiences of my life. After being stuck in traffic, and forced to miss the opening kick, I finally arrived to the game. I can honestly say there was as many Bears fans, including myself, as Colts fans throughout the stadium. No, this isn’t uncommon for a sporting event, but it’s ironic how we notice things we have on our minds (e.g. pointing out the same car we drive or one(s) we are looking at). Upon entering Lucas Oil Stadium, you notice an enlarged, blown up picture of Andrew Luck above the marquee. This athlete, this man, gave Colts fans hope after Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season and ultimately was released, with his blessing, to allow Andrew Luck to take over the reigns as the starting quarterback.
After having one of the smartest quarterbacks to play the game in Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck brought another genius to Indianapolis after graduating a semester early, from Stanford, with a 4.4 GPA. Not only did he bring brains, but Luck was an ironman, battling through the everyday grind of the NFL, and missing time due to a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle. Following offseason shoulder surgery to fix a labrum injury prior to the 2017 season, Luck was forced to sit out the entire season. Fast-forward to last season, and Luck proved healthy having arguably one of his best seasons and winning the National Football League Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Leading up to the hardest decision of his life, I’m sure numerous thoughts went through Andrew Luck’s head. It’s never easy dealing with an injury, and having gone through a serious surgery (Tommy John Surgery) myself, there’s more to it than going under the knife. I’ve stated this on radio shows and articles that surgery is the easy part. You are knocked out for a few hours, and you awake to being “fixed.” The hardest part is the rehabilitation process. From personal experience, I can tell you that rehab, and the mental anguish that follows, is one of the hardest things an athlete can endure, and something not everyone can show empathy for. I can remember for over a year not being able to bend my right arm all the way to where my finger tips could touch my shoulder. The best I could do was a 90 degree angle, and this persisted for well over a year. This lead to the mental anguish, and thoughts of will I ever be able to touch my shoulder again, will I ever be the same prior to the injury/surgery, and will I ever be able to compete at the same level as I once did? That was only the start of the mental grind following surgery. Add in occupational therapy multiple times a week, and the physical anguish in being stretched, doing strenuous exercises, and relearning how to use my right arm. If you haven’t gone through a surgery, the mental and physical rehabilitation process becomes all-encompassing.
Athletes, recovering from a serious injury, do not spend all hours of the day rehabbing. You do come back to your everyday affairs, and I can promise you there are emotions that tend to come out that we do not wish to have happen. Yes, you can argue that it’s an excuse for no self control, but no one truly knows what is going on in the head of each individual person. I wouldn’t be surprised if that can be said since man first walked the Earth. Humans fail to realize that everyone experiences the feeling of emotions differently, and everyone shows emotion differently. I can remember being so frustrated with my lack of full range of motion that I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around. I’m sure people can say that today, as I hold myself to a high standard, and I try to give my all in everything I do. Frustration is another emotion that everyone experiences differently. Some people are able to keep everything locked up inside, and there are those of us that can’t help but let it slip out in a variety of ways.
After rehabbing from surgery due to a torn labrum, and coming off one of his best seasons in his career, I’m positive Luck was looking forward to the upcoming 2019 season. A few months back, reports stated Luck was dealing with a calf injury. Fast-forward a few months, and new reports stated he wasn’t participating in team drills, and was dealing with an issue that now presided in his ankle. After last night’s press conference, it was learned that he was dealing with an ankle impingement. I can only imagine the thoughts that returned to his head after getting past all the pain, and suffering, that he had dealt with prior to shoulder surgery. We are talking about a player that has dealt with the riggers of the NFL and dealt with numerous blows due to a shoddy offensive line. During Sunday night’s press conference, Andrew Luck said something that I found not only interesting, but something that made him mortal. He stated that he’s battled through injuries the past four seasons. He’s been stuck in the process, and he hasn’t been able to live the life he wants to live, and the only way to get through the pain and rehab is to no longer play football. This was clearly one of the hardest press conferences he’s ever had to give, and he became emotional throughout. I hope that anyone that booed heard the words Luck spoke, and feels guilty for the way they acted as he left the field for the last time.
Close to the end of the third quarter, a Colts fan turned to me and showed me a breaking headline, from ESPN, on his phone stating Luck had informed the Colts that he is retiring. The fan asked me if this was a joke, and I quickly tried to pull up ESPN on my phone. After refreshing the page a few times, I too saw the headline. The stadium became quiet and fans started talking amongst one another. I can remember someone yelling to Justin Houston if he heard the news, and saying I hope it isn’t true. Houston responded, “I hope it isn’t true.”
For the rest of the fourth quarter, fans were trying to find Luck on the sideline, and you could sense people being on edge. The Colts were positioned to be one of the top teams in the AFC, and had a great shot at reaching the Super Bowl. Prior to the conclusion of the game, Luck started to head to the locker room, and at that moment I experienced one of the oddest moments of my life. Amid silence, fans started to let out numerous, loud boos as Luck ascended into the tunnel to the locker room. Fans quickly turned on a player that gave them hope, and everything he had. Numerous reports came out and I heard comments from fans stating this was selfish of Luck, how could he do this to them, and the timing was not right. If I can say one thing, this decision was no one’s except Luck’s, and how can anyone give their opinion regarding when his decision was made?
First off, I can promise you nearly 85-90% of the people giving their opinion have never experienced even half of what Andrew Luck experienced during his time in the NFL. The physical pain and mental anguish took it’s toll, and no one knows what he went through. He’s gone through surgery, rehab, and back to normal strength only to be back to the unknown and uncertainty dealing with another injury concern. He said he promised himself after 2016 he would never “go down that path again.”
Secondly, how dare fans boo. How can anyone knock a player, a man, for leaving everything he had on the field, and ultimately make his own decision that he’s done? This was Andrew Luck’s decision, and only his decision. He felt the daily grind of the NFL had finally taken it’s toll, and disallowed him to lead the quality of life he wants to live. I find it selfish, and embarrassing, that any fan that booed didn’t agree with his ultimate decision to call it a career. A player that gave his life and soul to one organization deserved better. During the end of the press conference he stated he heard the boos and it hurt. Can you imagine how he will remember the last time he was on the Colts home turf as a player? Leaving the field to boos? Luck deserved nothing but the best send off, and I hope every fan that booed has to remember it for the rest of their life. A great player that left everything on the field, and having to leave to the sound of boos. This is the memory you left in the head of a player, and a man, that gave his heart and soul to an entire city and fan base. This wasn’t about the fans or a sport, this was about a human being who decided his health, future, and life had come to a standstill.