- Raise your hands if you thought Robert Griffin III would have a longer career in the NFL than Andrew Luck. Some of you are lying...I just got off the phone with Vegas and they said zero bets were made on that line. Don’t worry, I am not here today to compare the careers of these two quarterbacks. Not even the most burgundy and gold-shaded glasses could help me attempt that one. For me, today is mostly about taking a step back and at least acknowledging the brutal reality of football and the toll it takes on the guys who make it to the league. Reading the kind of ignorant comments coming from guys like Doug Gottlieb (I won’t even post his twitter account on my site because of how stupid his words are/were) makes me sick (he basically said Luck’s retirement was very “millennial” of him). The need for people like that to say something so colossally stupid in the attempt to get clicks to his account/show just shows how many people at least appear to not get it. The NFL is a meat grinder. Almost NOBODY exits the meat grinder on their own terms, and I would be hard-pressed to say that Luck has left on his own terms. In fact, we should agree that he is NOT.
- Part of what makes me go here today has to do with actual current Redskins news. All of us watched Jordan Reed take a helmet to the head in a preseason game last week. All of us have seen him get concussed like that multiple times before...many multiple times. In fact, I don’t understand how some people are saying this is just his fourth concussion (I have also read seven and I have also read “countless”). Rumors are rumors and rarely worth repeating, but in light of the Luck retirement, any rumor that suggests Reed is considering leaving the game has to be at least thoughtfully considered. I know every position takes its share of hits and body blows, but tight ends seem to be especially susceptible. The evolution of the passing game in the NFL has seen the emergence in recent years of that uber-athletic tight end who is a mismatch against linebackers and safeties. As those tight ends find space and turn for the ball in the seam, they are targeted for crushing hits. These tight ends tend to be huge guys with lots of body area to get smashed up by defenders eager to land highlight-worthy hits. Again, every man on the field can get lit up, but the nature of today’s league has really created a problem for these next-level tight ends. Redskins fans know this as well as anyone. I hope that Jordan Reed makes the right decision for him and for his family, and I hope we will focus more on the amazing plays he has made and less on the unfulfilled promise of a huge career, because Jordan Reed has not robbed us of anything. The game has hurt him, and his suffering health is worthy of our consideration.
- Getting back to Andrew Luck, everyone reading this probably got the news of his retirement close to when it happened. A group text chain, Twitter, a breaking news banner on ESPN or some other news network. It struck me how this particular news hit a chord with our sports-crazed nation—and how it impacted so many who otherwise don’t follow sports as closely as we do. I mean, it was mentioned in the homily during mass on Sunday at my church (quite cleverly actually, as the homily was about both preparation and the shocking message of “the last being first and the first being last”). I saw it on political talk shows and I heard it being discussed in line at the supermarket by two moms who were commenting on whether they would or would not let their sons play football. It isn’t that Andrew Luck is that high on the sports food chain that news about him trumps all else, so it is noteworthy how big this was. A 29-year old athlete in the middle of a Hall of Fame career calling it quits is a big domino to fall, even more so than when Calvin Johnson, Barry Sanders and Rob Gronkowski all retired at about the same age (Megatron and Barry were 30). As usual, it’s not the players who need the reminder about the brutality of this game, but rather the public.
- I love football. I hope we will always have it, but when home fans boo a player like Andrew Luck because he can’t play like they did the other day, it is yet another reminder that we have our heads stuck up our asses (pardon the expression). It is UNACCEPTABLE for that kind of behavior, and it doesn’t just reflect poorly on idiotic Indianapolis folks who earned themselves a lot of haters this season. It reflects on all of us. Listen, did I chuckle at my friend’s expense because he had just drafted Andrew Luck at the top of his fantasy draft a day earlier? OF COURSE I DID. Do I understand how AFC South opponents see a cleaner path to the postseason with Andrew Luck out of the picture? OF COURSE I DO. I even inherently recognize the blessing that Andrew Luck has in the way of massive monetary resources to help him with the rest of his life, but we need to remember that the league spits out men every year who will be bankrupted by medical bills. We need to—at least sometimes—remember these guys aren’t video game characters on HD televisions and are deserving of at least some human decency. I don’t think we need to let Andrew Luck’s retirement ruin the awesome experience football provides to both players and fans, but we need to at least be able to discern the reality that goes hand-in-hand with that awesomeness. I don’t think that makes me any kind of crusader for awareness, either. I find this to be pretty basic, simple, easy stuff.
- Maybe it is the Redskins fan in me that can’t extricate the RG3ness away from the Andrew Luck situation. Our guy, the second pick in the 2012 draft following Indy’s selection of Luck, was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year! Our guy led us to the playoffs with a seven-game winning streak to close out his first season and absolutely proved he could play in the league. Luck passed for almost 24,000 yards and was likely a season away from 200+ touchdown passes in the six seasons he played. We’re talking about the guy whose impossible job it was to follow Peyton Manning, and he kind of did it. These two players have both been hit by the injury bug, and both will be remembered for that. Seven years after they entered the league, it is a major lesson for us to try and learn/remember that this story ended FAR DIFFERENTLY than we thought it would. Neither the Colts nor the Redskins hoisted a Lombardi Trophy with these two franchise quarterback selections. The Colts were closer than us, but we are tied nonetheless when it comes to titles over that span. I’ll be right at the front of the line when it comes to saying the Colts absolutely made the right choice when they took #12, and everyone who called him a Hall of Fame-caliber player when he was drafted was correct. There won’t be a bust of Andrew Luck in Canton (unless he returns to the game and picks up where he left off), and that is a big deal for those of us who follow football as closely as so many of us do.
- What of it? What’s new about this? Why is this reverberating so strongly throughout the league/country? I think the Luck decision is going to change the way some players think about their careers and lives. Most people woke up when the concussion stuff started coming out in the last decade or two. Most fans do understand what football is and what it does, but it takes news like this sometimes to underline and asterisk it. It’s important to keep in mind as we are teaching young kids how to play. It’s important to keep in mind as we cheer for our high schools and colleges, remembering that actual people live under those helmets. It’s important to keep in mind as we celebrate one of the greatest team sports on the planet. When I sit down to write next week’s Sixpack, I am sure I will mention an injured player, or a guy with an injury history, or maybe the way an injury is killing our chances to win games. It is so ingrained in the sport—and will continue to be—that we become kind of blind to what we are actually talking about. I don’t think we will change the way we talk about it, but maybe every once in a while it is beneficial to recognize it for what it is. For all the complaints people lodge about professional athletes being disconnected from society, this exercise could maybe be one small step toward narrowing that gap. I hope and pray that the Le’Ron McClain’s of the world get the help they need. I hope that men like Andrew Luck find peace after they leave the league. I guess for the first time in a long time, I am once again rooting for a man just up I-95, rehabbing a hand injury with the Baltimore Ravens. It is beyond ironic that it took Andrew Luck’s retirement for me to appreciate Robert Griffin III again, but that is where my head’s at today.
(the regular season can’t get here soon enough, can it?)