It’s NEVER easy to know when to call it a career in the NFL, but if your lucky you can do it yourself
Last Thursday, I got the unique opportunity to watch one of the greatest passers of the past 15-seasons play quarterback for the New York Giants. For two offensive series’, Manning led his team downfield to set up a field goal and then he was gone so second string signal caller Daniel Jones could get his reps. There was a sense of urgency that night as I knew that after over a decade of NFL battles this might be the last time I might every get to witness the only man, who managed to beat the GOAT (Tom Brady) in two Super Bowls in live action.
Manning is one of my All-Time Favorites, but two days later another All-time great was about to make a decision that would rock the football world in general and Indianapolis Colt fans in particular.
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Superstar Quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement from pro football siting injuries as the reason. The sudden decision shocked everyone, but the truth is this wasn’t the first time a retirement made waves in the sports world.
In March 31, 1980, Roger Staubach announced his retirement from professional Football. It may have came as a surprise to many after having a stellar 1979 season in which statistically he may have had his best season EVER and led five come-from-behind victories for the Dallas Cowboys, but his last game may have been what helped make his decision. “Captain America” as many had nicknamed him because of his sqeaky clean image suffered the last of several concussions in a playoff loss to the Los Angelos Rams. It came on a linebacker blitz in which he once again bounced his head off the hard artifical turf in Texas Stadium, which left him woozy and a head ache which wouldn’t go away. In the end, Staubach said good-bye to a sport which he loved and charmed millions of fans and despite his departure, the Cowboys plugged in Danny White and went to three straight NFC Championship games.
The point I’m making is that he was able to make his fateful decision even though he was still at the top of his game, but he admitted later that even though he never regretted stepping down, he did miss football more than he thought he would because the Cowboys would have a great team coming back.
But it was a decision that every athlete (especially the quarterback because they are the most visible and important position) must make. It’s a brutal game that they play in the NFL and the wear and tear on your body eventually slows them down.
Compared to Luck’s decision, Staubach’s created a tidal wave or reaction.
Fran Tarkenton admitted that even though he retired after the 1978 season, he suffered a broken bone in his throwing arm that prevented him from throwing farther than 20-yards. He played through it by introducing an advanced variation of the spread formation that flooded the secondary with multiple receivers and allowed him more options to mask his limitations.
Like Tarkenton, John Unitas ended a stellar career after 18-years in the NFL and for all intents and purposes he sort of had the decision made for him, when he was traded to San Diego after the 1972 season with the Baltimore Colts. Even then, Unitas believed that he could still play the game, but his body wouldn’t allow it.
Perhaps no quarterback signified what a passer was than Joe Namath and despite playing on knees so fragile that he couldn’t run across the street managed to play 13-years, but the inability to stay healthy eventually forced that decision as well.
Bret Favre stuggled to make that decision after 21-years, but his body wouldn’t allow him too and he once admitted during his Super bowl season of 1996, that he hurt so much that he had diffculty sleeping on his back, so he would sleep on his side. The toil your body takes from the hits is a big reason why the position has a career expectancy of ten seasons if your lucky.
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino knew when to call it a career after 17-seasons. Even though his arm was still golden, his legs were not. Jet coach Bill Parcells quoted in his book that he could tell by watching Marino during warmups before Miami’s game against New York that he struggled in his follow through because you throw with your legs as well as your arm and he wasn’t getting the same support. The greatest passing quarterback ended his career with a 62-7 playoff loss to Jacksonville.
Which brings us to the surprise news that Colt quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement just two weeks from the regular season opener. True, he was a covented passer and had all the tools to become one of the greats, but multiple injuries began to take it’s toll (sound familiar) on the proud signal caller and may have forced his decision.
Although it may have come as a surprise to many fans (at least the ones that had him in their Fantasy lineup), it probably wasn’t one made lightly as fighting injuries and the hours spent trying to rehab appeared to take away any enjoyment he had for the game. It may surprise most fans that believe that it seemed crazy to leave a game and a job that many would kill to have, but the truth is quite a few guys who do suit up on Sundays aren’t really in love with football anymore and do it becasuse it’s what many of us do 5 to 7-days a week. A JOB. How many of us do something we aren’t in love with, but leaving means a change of employment and a huge hole in your bank account?
I myself have worked a job that required me to be there healthly or sick and the pressures of dealing with situations that you have no control over and still suffer the consequences and I’ve done it for 34-years and NO, I don’t love doing it, but I still show up for work everyday whether I want to or not.
Are we as fans angry when they chose to leave? Of course and according to the reactions by Indy fans, who are burning their LUCK jerseys, they reacted much like the way a jilted lover would: Angry and Betrayed.
Still life moves on. Eventually, someone will step in and hopefully will help lead Indy to a Super Bowl. After Bart Starr was Favre and later Aaron Rodgers. Staubach, eventually Aikman. Bob Griese, there was Marino. John Elway, there was Peyton. Terry Bradshaw, there was Big Ben.
The Colts are looking at Jacoby Brissett and Chad Kelly and there is always to possiblity of a free agent move. Who knows? Did anyone see Patrick Mahonnes coming or for that matter Tom Brady back in 2001?
Also, don’t feel too bad for these guys when they leave the game as they are better off financially (at least the QBs are) to deal with the fiscal hit and they are in most cases still in their late 30’s (albeit in some cases limping out) and have plenty of time to find other careers. Staubach went on to start his own realestate firm and eventually sold it for over 100 Million dollars. That was after he went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Like Staubach, Bradshaw and Tarkenton are living happy lives and despite some others dealing with major health issues are doing okay.
Also, Quarterbacks are the highest paid of any position in the NFL some making after taxes 9 to 12 million a year. Rookies make the least at about $300,000.00. Still not bad so it’s hard to feel to bad for anyone despite the risks they take.
So Andrew Luck will have some time to decide on his next move. Maybe in the booth like Tony Romo, which actually made his step down much easier.
I’ll end this story the way I began it with Eli Manning. The little brother of Peyton came into his own back in 2007, when he took the Giants to the first of two Super Bowl wins and the two miraculous pass completions in each game will forever be burned in video lore. Much like Peyton, Eli is starting to see the writing on the wall coming into his 16th NFL season. With first round draft choice Daniel Jones from Duke taking plenty of snaps in the New York preseason game at Cincinnati, it’s obvious who’s next in line. While I was watching Jones throw strikes in the second half and Manning sitting on the sideline watching his eventual replacement, I wondered what the only quarterback to ever beat Tom Brady in a Super bowl twice was thinking.
Hopefully, he’ll make the decision, much like his predecessor Phil Simms, who called it a career after 1993 even though he still had a few years left when the time comes.
Like Luck did.
Like so many things in life, it’s much easier when you do it yourself.