For many Hoosiers, last weekend presented a gut punch when we learned that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was retiring at the tender age of 29.
The emotions of fans run the gamut, from incredulity, to anger, sadness and then when you put it into the proper context, appreciation and thanks for what Andrew Luck brought to Indiana. He became a Hoosier, invested in our community while playing with great heart, soul and distinction.
One of Luck’s most courageous displays occurred in November 2015 in a game against Peyton Manning and the 7-1 Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium. Luck led the 4-5 Colts to a thrilling 27-24 victory, throwing two touchdown passes and 252 yards (Manning threw for 281 yards, two TDs and two picks and finished the game a mere three yards from becoming the NFL’s all-time leading passer). But it was a brutal second half hit on Luck that would lacerate one of his kidneys and tear an abdominal muscle. It forced him to miss several games.
After the game, Luck said, “That’s who we need to be, consistently. Probably a little bit of soul searching, trying to figure out what we want to be.”
Luck’s dilemma was that the hits kept coming, coast-to-coast, from a shoulder injury that kept him out for an entire season, to this spring and summer when he suffered nagging leg and ankle injuries. “For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it,” Luck explained in an emotional post-game press conference. “The only way I see out is to no longer play football. I’ve come to the proverbial fork in the road, and I made a vow to myself that if I ever did again, I’d choose me, in a sense.”
At my alma mater — Peru High School — there used to be a Grantland Rice “Alumnus Football” quote high on the wall at TigArena that provided inspiration for many who played or watched: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name; He marks — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.”
Andrew Luck personified the spirit of that.
Author John Feinstein (who wrote the book “Season on the Brink” about Indiana University Coach Bob Knight), noted in a Washington Post column this past week that he once asked Luck what he would do after his football career. Luck responded, “Honestly, I think I could be very happy teaching high school history.”
Which brought to mind another Hoosier legend who crossed my path. That would be Marvin Wood, the coach of the 1954 Milan miracle team that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.” I got to know Wood when he coached the girls basketball team at Mishawaka High School late in his career. The teacher/coach decided to run for the Indiana House. He lost, but what I found was a man with a kind intellect who decided he wanted to give something else to his state.
There have been others who have gone from the field of battle in sports and into public policy. The late Gov. Frank O’Bannon played basketball at I.U., former congressmen Lee Hamilton and Baron Hill played basketball collegiately, as well as Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer (who played on Coach Steve Alford’s Manchester College champs), Democratic Elkhart mayoral nominee Rod Roberson and state Rep. Bob Heaton.
Luck certainly has the intellect and curiosity that would translate into the public policy arena. He has the courage as we witnessed countless times over the past seven years. Our state and nation need such courage. We face issues such as the mass shooting and opioid epidemics, climate change, widening income disparity, immigration that will shape the future of our melting pot culture, and, perhaps, the most intellectually challenging dynamic, the coming artificial intelligence that will impact our workforce in the coming generations.
In all of these issues, there is a need for courage that seems to be lacking these days. We all are at a fork in the road.
Luck studied architecture at Stanford University and spent time exploring Indiana’s considerable contributions in that field. When he gave the Ubben lecture at DePauw University six months before his kidney laceration, he toured the campus checking out its unique architecture.
“I love reading,” Luck said, telling the audience he had just finished “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” a book about the ill-fated Antarctic expedition headed by Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1914. “He survives, and every crew member survives with him.”
Luck called the book lesson of “incredible fortitude and survival instincts. Can you imagine a year in the dark with no food, with 30 people — rough sailors — and managing the egos and the personalities to survive, just so you don’t kill each other? Fantastic read.”
You could make the case that the notion of Schackleton’s adventure has Luck poised for a stint of public service.
Luck has one other key ingredient applicable to politics. Fame.
Yes, I hope Andrew Luck remains a Hoosier.