I still remember the exact spot I was sitting. I remember exactly what I was doing. Hell, I even remember the time of day and the weather outside. Early evening, partly cloudy with a high of 86.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, the moment I am talking about would become, for Colts fans, our JFK assassination…well just in the sense that all of us remember the exact moment, where we were, and what we were doing when we got the news that Andrew Luck was retiring from the NFL at the ripe old age of 29.
Going into the 2019 season, the excitement around the Colts had reached a tipping point that it hasn’t seen since the Manning years. The previous season we got an injury-free Andrew Luck and a playoff win against the Texans. The Colts would lose to the eventual super bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead, but it was a sweet season nonetheless.
Andy finally had a good offensive line and showed that he was even more lethal when he wasn’t running for his life every play. Go figure. There were a lot of reasons to be happy as a Colts fan…and, out of nowhere, all of those reasons turned to sand and slipped through our fingers.
Schefty Breaks Our Hearts
For me, I got the news after a friend posted a screenshot of the Adam Schefter tweet breaking the horrible news in the group chat. I was on the couch watching the preseason game against the Bears. He accompanied the screenshot with the only appropriate caption “WHAT THE F***” (the asterisks were my edit for the sake of this story).
I was in denial. Of course, it couldn’t be true. Never in NFL history has a young, franchise QB called it quits three weeks before the season, when many in the National media were calling his team super bowl contenders. But I forgot where I was. I forgot this was Indy. Of course, this had to happen to us. After all, we were the city that had their title favorite NBA franchise torn apart by a beer thrown from the stands in Detroit.
Denial, Anger, Acceptance
Colts fans suddenly found themselves in a whirlwind of emotion, whether they were at home watching the preseason game or in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium. When all was set and done, I felt like I went through all of the stages of grief in about an hour…well all of them except acceptance. That wouldn’t come until much later. What we watched happen next was unprecedented.
On the broadcast, you could see the news spread through the crowd like the plague. One fan leaned toward a friend, undoubtedly had the news spoken in his ear, threw his hands up, and took off the Luck jersey he had just gotten at the pro shop, tags still attached.
Luck could sense what was happening from the sideline, and as a nervous energy spread across the stadium, Luck grew noticeably uncomfortable. Then the boos started. A fanbase, who just had all the hope they had ripped from their heart, reacted the only way they had the power to. Boo the man they felt was abandoning them the moment things were seemingly turning around for the franchise.
National Media Gets on Their High Horse
As the boos came down, the national media wasted no time virtue signaling, trying to take the moral high ground on us. John Breech, CBS columnist, would write that the fans at the game booing “makes zero sense” as if he didn’t even try to think a little bit critically about the situation. He acknowledged the news was stunning in his headline, but in the very same article grilled us for having an adverse, heat-of-the-moment reaction.
Other fan bases would get in on the fun acting as if they wouldn’t react the exact same way if they were given the exact same situation. I guess it’s easy to judge someone for their reaction to something happening to their franchise that literally has never happened in the history of the league and will likely never happen again.
The immediate fallout was rough. That Andrew Luck press conference was difficult to watch. The man was broken. Not only by Colt’s fans’ perfectly understandable reaction, but Schefter being the one to break the devastating news, instead of him, really got to Andy. What we saw at that podium was a tired man. A man who was done. He chose for himself and it was the choice he deserved.
As bad as that press conference was, it was an important one to have as it gave Colts fans an avenue to understand Luck’s state of mind. Football was taking a toll on Andy’s body and mind and his only way to get better was to retire. As difficult as the news was to take in the moment, that press conference opened the door for empathy and understanding.
We Colts fans had to accept we were going into the 2019 season with Jacoby Brissett and not Andrew Luck. We had to accept, rather quickly, that we lost out Super Bowl Contender status in a matter of hours. The season that would follow was a rough one. We would finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs…in a year that we could’ve won it all.
The long-term fallout is still something that lingers over the club. After Luck, we stepped onto an endless QB carousel and changed our minds about which horse we wanted to ride more than a toddler high off the carnival cotton candy.
After Jacoby, it was Philip Rivers. Which didn’t go too badly. We went 11-5 and gave the Bills a good game before eventually losing to them 27-24 in the Wild Card Round. But us fans still had that one question in the back of our minds, “What if Luck had this roster? How far could we have gone?”
Then we brought in Wentz. This felt like we could finally put the Luck thing behind us. The possibility was there that we had our QB of the future. Frank Reich loved him and, if we could get him playing at his previous MVP level, the sky was the limit…we would miss the playoffs after losing the final two games against the Raiders and, league-worst, Jacksonville Jaguars when we just had to win one to stamp our ticket to the playoffs.
Then things got bleak. We traded Wentz to Washington and brought in Matt Ryan. The Colts were flailing for an answer to the question brought about by Luck three years before. Of course, the Ryan move didn’t work out. You guys remember the mess last season was, so I won’t get into it.
Can We Put it Behind Us Once and For All?
I have a good feeling about this Anthony Richardson guy. Like all of us, I am insanely excited for this season. I don’t expect us to win the division, or even make the playoffs for that matter. What I do expect is a bunch of young guys learning, growing, and bringing about a hopeful start to a new era of Colts football.
Andy has had no problem putting that terrible, August night behind him. He has decided to stay in Indy and raise his family, despite that initial, negative reaction from us. It probably helps that since that late summer evening we have nothing but love for Andrew.
Every public appearance he’s made he looks so much happier since calling it quits, whether he is showing up in California to support Stanford or stopping to take photos and toss the pigskin with Brownsburg little league football players in the park. Andy is living his best life and with the arrival of guys like Shane Steichen, Anthony Richardson, and Josh Downs, I think it’s about time that we Colts fans start living ours.