Andrew Luck finally explains why he left the NFL.

THE DAY AFTER HE RETIRED, Andrew Luck reached into the shower in his Indianapolis condo’s bedroom and turned the knob. He took a step back and waited for the water to heat up. It was the afternoon of August 25, 2019, and he was still confused about what he had done. When Luck told Indianapolis Colts executives that he was leaving football, they didn’t believe him. I couldn’t figure it out. “When are you going to turn it on?” they inquired two weeks before the start of the season. “I’m not,” Luck replied. When he told his teammates that he wasn’t able to live the life he desired, they said they understood. I did not argue.

They claimed to have witnessed his agony and now felt his relief. But when he told them, his eyes became wet and his face flushed. He knew they wanted him for a Super Bowl shot, and he also knew he wasn’t going to deliver. He also knew that no matter how guilty he felt, he wouldn’t change his mind.

Luck wrote it down when it came time to tell the rest of the world. He sat at his kitchen counter, writing a retirement speech. He wrote longhand on a notepad, then typed it into his laptop, polishing and rearranging as he went, and titled it ALUCK – FIRST DRAFT. It was strange writing it. Retirements are typically joyous occasions at the end of long careers. Nobody, not even Luck, would be happy about this. “I have a lot of clarity in this,” he said, and “it is the right decision for me.” He explained that the cycle of getting hurt, rehabbing, and getting hurt again had led him to this point. A location where he needed to “remove himself”

The sports world was taken aback. This was a quarterback for the ages. A quarterback on the fast track to the Hall of Fame. A quarterback who had recently been named the Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year. A rare quarterback who seemed to be born to play the position. Andrew Luck was the name.

How could he walk away?

With trembling conviction, he delivered his speech. He couldn’t choose an emotion the next day at home. Relief mixed with mourning, guilt mixed with a profound unburdening, a dozen thoughts and feelings he couldn’t name or even really describe. He had no idea what was going to happen next, or how difficult it would be to find out. All he knew was that he no longer had to pretend. He entered the shower, stood under the water, and began to cry as the steam rose.

Andrew Luck is holding a fishing rod and sliding into waders in a dirt parking lot a few miles from his house almost three years later. He’s now 33 years old. He had just kissed his wife, Nicole Pechanec, goodbye and dropped their 3-year-old daughter, Lucy, off at preschool. Penelope, another daughter, is due in two months. Luck attempted to find new outlets for his obsessions after leaving the Colts. He makes an excellent cappuccino, using whole beans purchased from a nearby shop where he always leaves a generous tip.

Skiing satisfies his desire for an outdoor physical activity that requires complete concentration, as well as speed and danger. Cycling gives you the rush of skiing but in warmer weather and is gentler on your joints. Nicole encouraged her students to row. And he enjoys fishing for the usual reasons: the peace and quiet, the excitement and adrenaline, the fact that he can go alone or with friends.

He stands outside his black Audi sedan, tinkering with the gears and threading his line. A group of kids stands back and watches him. Luck looks slimmer and more defined than he did when he was playing. His eyes are hidden beneath a heavy brow, saying little but absorbing everything. He is still well-known in town for the hope he once offered and the fading hope that he might do so again one day. He makes his way through the woods and down to a peaceful river. There are some small rocks arranged on a bank by Lucy when she came here with her father a few days ago. That makes him happy. He steps into the water, which is cold and clear and ideal for trout.

Time stretches out in front of him as it has since he threw a football better than almost anyone on the planet; strange and confusing, liberating and exhilarating, as he tries to understand how a game became an obligation and a corruptive force.

“How do you lose love with something you loved?” he wonders.

He reels in his line and casts again, his gaze fixed on the glistening surface of the water.

“I’m still processing elements of decisions about why I did it,” he says.

“Dude! Hahaha. It’s such a good feeling, dude. Yes! Oh, it’s a wonderful sensation.”

Luck pulls the trout from the water after a brief struggle. He cradles it in his gangly, massive hands, large enough to swallow laces or a fish. “Hey, buddy,” he says, gently removing the hook from the fish’s mouth and releasing it. A silver flash appears beneath the surface and then vanishes. He casts again, waiting for another tug on the line, cast after cast, fish after fish, his best morning at this hole ever, until Lucy returns from school and it’s time to go home.

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