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Struggling With Injuries, Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck Calls It Quits

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Just two weeks before the start of the NFL season, one of the league's star quarterbacks announced he's retiring.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW LUCK: For the last four years or so, I've been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab. And it's been unceasing, and I've felt stuck in it. And the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It's taken my joy of this game away.

GREENE: That is 29-year-old Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012, but he has struggled with injuries throughout his career - a concussion, lacerated kidney, torn cartilage in his throwing shoulder, to name a few. Stephen Holder is a senior writer for The Athletic and covers the Colts, and he joins us now on Skype to talk about this. Good morning, Stephen.

STEPHEN HOLDER: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: So we heard from Luck there about why he is retiring. But, I mean, it sounds like this was a total surprise to fans and people who follow the NFL, right?

HOLDER: It was stunning. I wrote a story last week, in fact, because - now, Andrew Luck has not been practicing for the last three weeks because he's been dealing with this lower leg injury in his left leg, sort of a mysterious issue that they couldn't solve, and the pain just kind of lingering.

So I wrote a story last week, as the season's obviously approaching, and we're sort of wondering what are his chances of playing, and I interviewed players and coaches about how he's been very involved in the preparation behind the scenes, in the team's walkthrough practices, which are not - which are sort of - you know, sort of walking through their plays. And every morning they do that, which is important. It's an important part of their preparation.

GREENE: Sure.

HOLDER: He's been involved in that. He's been involved in all their meetings. He's rehabbing the injury.

GREENE: So no hint of this?

HOLDER: Yeah. And so that's what - it was sort of this juxtaposition of this guy who, behind the scenes, is doing everything he can to try to get back to play, and then yet, I think, apparently now, alternatively, in one part of his mind, also realizing that, I can't do this anymore. So it was very shocking.

GREENE: This is a time in the league where, you know, you've heard from some players talking more and more about the risks they think about - brain injury, otherwise. And then here you have Luck, who could have had some years left, retiring early. I mean, what, if anything, does this tell us about the NFL right now?

HOLDER: Well, so as it relates to that, this is interesting. I think it - this is an Andrew Luck decision, as opposed to a decision that reflects on the game itself. Now, it does remind us, Dave, this game takes a lot out of you. There's no question about it. That is true and will always be true. But Andrew Luck is a different sort of guy. I think a lot of NFL players grew up dreaming of and making it their life's goal to make it to the NFL, and that was not Andrew Luck.

You know, his - he comes from a different background, grew up in Europe for a large part of his childhood - his father being involved in the sports business industry and leading NFL Europe years ago. So, you know, he went to Stanford and majored in architecture and has just an amazingly varied set of interests. I think he was just really good at football, and it just happened.

And so, you know, now that this has happened to him, his reasons for playing the game, they're just no longer there anymore. And I think that is what has led him to this. His reason for playing the game was he enjoyed it. He loved it. He never did it for the money, never did it for the fame.

GREENE: Yeah. And when that's the case, if you have those injuries, I mean, it's probably just not fun anymore at all. Stephen Holder is a senior writer for The Athletic. He covers the Indianapolis Colts, who are dealing with the sudden announcement by quarterback Andrew Luck that he is retiring, just before the season's starting. Thanks so much, Stephen.

HOLDER: All right, thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "MOVING ON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.