For years, after he walked away, Andrew Luck became an invisible part of the world in which he’d once been a hero. Instead of practicing at the Indianapolis Colts' complex, he walked by and took his daughter to soccer practice. The film room in the house he’d built in Indianapolis became an office. The physical therapy room turned into a guest room.
It was here he transformed himself, from someone who identified as a great quarterback to someone who identifies as a husband, a father, a student. Maybe one day, he’ll be a coach.
But whatever he pursues next, he’ll do it with a different perspective – one that only comes through experiences that left the former NFL quarterback living in, as ESPN’s Seth Wickersham describes, "a silent hell, scared and panicking."
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One night in Holland, Andrew Luck finally broke.
He couldn’t fathom how he found himself here. In 2015, he’d missed nine games with a labrum injury, a partial abdominal tear and a lacerated kidney. During the 2016 offseason, he’d separated his AC joint in a snowboarding accident. He missed the entire 2017 season.
Willem Kramer, a trainer, suggested Luck and his then-girlfriend Nicole Pechanec get away for a while. Off he went, to the Netherlands.
He couldn’t use his right arm to do the exercises Kramer assigned.
He wasn't sleeping well, he was in pain, he was fighting with Nicole, the team was halfway across the globe without him, and if he stopped to examine his life, the entire world he had constructed might start to unravel, perhaps revealing it to be fatally flawed all along. "I understood myself best as a quarterback," Luck says. "I felt no understanding of other parts of myself at all."
Nicole was prepared to leave him if nothing changed. Then one night, he broke. He cried, he cursed, he vented, he confessed, and most of all, he leveled with Nicole in a way she thought he was incapable of. "There were some things that when I looked in the mirror, I did not like about myself," he says. "I was self-absorbed, withdrawn, in pain, and feeling pressure." —
After about a few weeks in Holland, Luck started to see a professional therapist. And Kramer started to serve not only as a trainer but as a couple's counselor of sorts, trying to teach Andrew and Nicole about communication and identity, both as individuals and as a unit. One day, Kramer asked Luck, "Aren't you more than a quarterback?"
"Huh?" Luck said.
"I mean, that's fine – I guess. What you do on the field is amazing. But aren't you more than that?"
Luck thought so, but maybe not. It took weeks, but Luck was at the early stages of trying to shed his former self – his quarterback self – in favor of a person he didn't know yet.
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He came back for one more magical season in 2018. He threw 39 touchdown passes, led the Colts back to the playoffs and won Comeback Player of the Year. But even then, he was still in pain. Midway through the season, his foot and ankle began bothering him. He strained his ankle at the Pro Bowl.
— Looking back, Luck wishes he had told the team, "I gave it all I had this year, but this is no more for me."
Instead, he told everyone that he'd be all right.
Years later, after he’d stepped away from the game, he told a group of kids he wished he’d done it differently.
More from Wickersham:
"What's your biggest regret from your NFL career?" a kid asked.
Luck cursed in his mind, having hoped for a softball. "Good question!" he said, and he decided to tell a group of kids what he had never said publicly:
"I regret the timing of when I retired."
He felt he had let people down, for which he had to learn how to forgive himself. What mattered to him most about football, what he wanted the kids to learn, was the "uber accountability." He knew that his own ideas of accountability and of football were more complicated than the romantic version that he had shared. And yet on the drive home that afternoon, Luck couldn't stop smiling at the thought of those romantic notions. Of sitting in meetings and geeking out for 45 minutes on one play. Of tough moments, when he was hurting or reckless with the ball. Of dumb stuff, like being whacked by pool noodles in practice to reduce fumbles.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: What Andrew Luck regrets about his retirement detailed in ESPN story