I did a mini pub crawl in my neighborhood of SunnyWood, Queens on Saturday. (SunnyWood is how I combine the neighborhoods of Sunnyside and Woodside.) It started at 2 PM and involved three blonde ladies, many Irish gents and a few too many Montauk Summer Ales. By 8 o’clock I was face down in a drool-soaked pillow, dreaming I was at a dinner party with the original Broadway cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
I woke up hazily in the middle of the night to a phone with 13 texts. That’s too many. “Somebody died,” I thought. The texts read like an old school news wire.
Whoa!! On the bottom line. Luck is retiring!
(And so on.)
Nobody will ever confuse me with someone who loves the NFL Draft and all the bullshit that now accompanies it. Millions upon millions of dollars piled into a weekend of guessing. But Andrew Luck looked to me, coming out of Stanford, to be the surest thing in my lifetime. He was big. He was tough. He was smart. He had a brilliant arm. He came from a solid football lineage. There simply wasn’t a flaw in the game or character. When he ended up in Indianapolis, I penciled them into the postseason yearly for the next decade plus.
Then he started getting hit.
From day one.
Luck was sacked 41 times in his rookie season behind a terrible offensive line that intellectually over-matched GM Ryan Grigson refused to fix. After that 41-sack campaign, the Colts went with a front five the following season as bad as any in the league. Why? Because they knew Luck would still get them to 10+ wins. And he did.
The terrible offensive line didn’t just translate in sack numbers. Luck carried the ball more than 180 times in his first three seasons. Rule out the number of times he slid or got to the end line and that’s another 100 hits to his frame. (Tom Brady took a bunch of sacks his first full season. He has only been sacked 30 or more times twice since. Smart teams don’t let their franchise QB take hits.) Luck was taking a beaten in the league. And no quarterback, no matter how big or strong they are, can survive it.
Look at Cam Newton. Has anybody bigger or stronger ever played the position? One needs only look at his record as a starter to understand how much pain he’s been dealing with the last six years. 12-4, then 5-8-1, then 15-1, then 6-8, then 11-5, then 6-8. The Panthers have been decidedly worse every other year. Their roster and approach hasn’t fluctuated dramatically. The difference for the franchise in the losing campaigns is the quarterback’s health. When he feels good, they win. When he doesn’t, they lose. It’s simple as that. And it goes for almost every franchise in the sport.
The injuries finally took their toll on Luck mentally. Football is a vicious, violent game and the folks who play longest are the ones who limit the violence. Peyton Manning dropped to the ground at the first sign of pressure. Tom Brady throws the ball up his center’s ass before he’s hit. Luck took hits, thinking it was in the best interest of his team to get those extra yards and launch that ball deep. And now he’s retired.
This should prove a valuable lesson for Mitch Trubisky, a player that’s physically similar to Luck. If Trubisky thinks he can continue to run and take hits the way he has early in his career, he’ll be putting that #10 jersey in the closet by the time he’s 30 years old. The Bears have given Trubisky everything he needs for a lengthy career. Good offensive line. Smart offensive system. But the onus is also on him to do everything in his power to avoid the kind of violent contact that has prematurely ended the career of one of the game’s greatest talents.
Drop before the sack. Throw the ball away. Get out of bounds. In the grand scheme of NFL things, a prematurely-ended drive is far less significant than a prematurely-ended career. That’s the lesson of Luck. And Trubisky must learn it.