The ones who booed Andrew Luck because he walked away from football and their Colts to the life he now wants, to the peace he yearned for, the ones who burned their Luck jerseys, they are the ones who should look in the mirror. And there is no way they can possibly like what they would see.
“Any player,” Giants safety Michael Thomas said, “when they decide that they’ve given this game all they could, and they’re gonna step away from it for personal reasons, whatever it is, to boo him, that’s not right, regardless if they think it’s premature, too early for their likings or whatnot. That’s not fair.
“I’m not gonna comment on their fan base, but I’d hope any of our fans would understand if any of our guys chose to stop early or say that’s enough, they’ve given this game everything they had, they’d understand.”
The bombshell news that Luck was retiring at age 29 had more meaning for Thomas and more impact on him than most everyone else in the NFL.
Thomas and Luck were high school rivals in Houston, then became teammates and captains and brothers, really, at Stanford, where together they helped Jim Harbaugh turn the program from a laughingstock to a powerhouse.
Thomas joined the chorus of a fraternity that knows only too well the addiction of the game they grew to love as kids can also include a cruel ending at any time and a future spent wondering whether the horrors of CTE will leave them diminished for their loved ones.
“Anytime you can leave on your terms, you’ve done it right,” Thomas said. “If you felt you’d given this game everything you could and you start looking at your kids, you start looking at your family, how much you sacrifice — how much THEY sacrifice, and how much time you missed away from them … and your body, you feel like physically and your mental health and safety, like it’s not there and you want to step away from the game, spend more time with them and give time back to them, then that’s to each man.”
Maybe Rob Gronkowski changes his mind about retirement and comes back. No one should begrudge him if he doesn’t. We don’t walk in his shoes, and we don’t walk in Luck’s shoes.
“A lot of times, more often, the game tells you they’re done with you before you can say you’re done with it,” Thomas said. “For guys to leave on their own time, that’s to them.”
Thomas played at Nimitz High School. Luck played at Stratford High School. Thomas was the opposing quarterback. And lost to Luck their junior and senior years.
“We’re both on varsity as sophomores,” Thomas said. “That rivalry ’cause we’re in the same division, but at the same time admiration because you see somebody as young as you be an impact player on their team, star on their team. And then, we see each other for the first time really at a University of Texas football camp and I’m at receiver, he’s actually throwing passes to me.”
Their bond was immediate.
“We connected on many levels,” Thomas said.
Neither would be defined solely by football. Luck would earn his degree in architectural engineering. Thomas would earn a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Miami Business School, and is an NFL Players Association vice president committed to social justice.
“I got a lot of Stanford memories with him,” Thomas said. “Favorite one? That’s hard to just pinpoint. But just love the fact that we were able to come from the same area, have a goal of going to Stanford when Stanford was not the Stanford football that we think of today. And to have that goal set as freshmen, and see it come true. … We turned the program around.”
Thomas smiled as his mind traveled back in time to memories of his friend putting the Cardinal on his back:
“Throwing the interception and coming downhill and forcing a fumble. The big-time throws he’d make, the big run against Cal where he’d run somebody over, trucks him, looks at him for a second and keeps running. … It’s so many plays, man.
“He had a helluva run. It was a privilege and pleasure to call him a teammate, and he’s obviously still one of my best friends.”
Thomas signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. Luck was the first overall pick in 2012, drafted to replace Payton Manning.
Luck got to the playoffs as a rookie and eventually to an AFC Championship game, even though then-GM Ryan Grigson left him virtually naked behind an inferior offensive line.
Those who mock Luck as the prototypical millennial are grossly misinformed. Andrew Luck was a warrior who finished one game with a lacerated kidney, who played the entire 2016 season with a torn labrum. If it wasn’t the shoulder, it was the calf. If it wasn’t the calf, it was the ankle. Thomas completely understood.
“Personal issue, obviously, not gonna disclose what me and him have talked about personally, but support him, man,” Thomas said. “Had a great, great ride, and if that’s the decision he makes, it’s probably for a good reason.”
Luck made $97 million for his career, and the Colts did the right thing by reaching an agreement not to recoup $24.8 million they were owed. Every franchise should want an Andrew Luck as its face.
“Genuine,” Thomas said. “One of the best teammates you could ever ask for. Loving, caring, one of the most intelligent guys I’ve ever met.”
Andrew Luck brought honor to his craft, and to the NFL, and to his city. And most of all, to himself.
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