There aren’t too many NFL news stories that stun everyone out of the blue.
Andrew Luck’s retirement is one of them. Late Saturday evening, with preseason games going on around the NFL — and Luck standing on the sideline during the Indianapolis Colts’ game vs. the Chicago Bears — ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Luck had informed the team he was going to retire at age 29. Other reports confirmed it.
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Luck had been dealing with a calf and then an ankle injury, but it’s still among the most stunning retirements in sports history. Luck threw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns last season.
Here are some of the most shocking retirements in NFL history:
Jim Brown retires from a movie set
Brown is the best example in sports history of a player walking away in his prime. In nine NFL seasons, he was an All-Pro eight times. He led the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns in 1965. In July of 1966 he was on a movie set in London, filming “The Dirty Dozen,” when he decided to retire. Brown retired after owner Art Modell threatened to suspend him without pay if he didn’t show up to training camp with the rest of the team.
Barry Sanders retires short of a record
Sanders was set to break Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record, one of the biggest records in sports. He was 1,457 yards shy of Payton after the 1998 season, in which he rushed for 1,491 yards. But Sanders, shortly before training camp in 1999, retired suddenly with an announcement to the Wichita Eagle, the newspaper in his hometown. He then flew to London. The Lions’ constant losing has been cited as a reason Sanders walked away in his prime.
Calvin Johnson leaves the Lions, too
Like Sanders, Johnson was an all-time great player on a Lions team that never won anything. But Johnson said it wasn’t the losing that drove him away, rather health concerns including concussions. “I wouldn’t just quit because we were losing,” Johnson told the Detroit Free Press. “It was just body.” Whatever the reason, Johnson retired at 30 years old, after a 1,214-yard season.
Robert Smith retires after a big season
Smith had a Pro Bowl season in 2000, with 1,521 rushing yards. He was the Minnesota Vikings’ all-time leading rusher when he walked away at age 28, as a free agent no less. "He could easily play five more years without jeopardizing his health," his agent Neil Cornrich told ESPN right after the announcement. "He just decided to go in another direction at this point."
Patrick Willis leaves 49ers abruptly
Willis was still one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers when he left the 49ers after the 2014 season. He dealt with an injured toe in 2014 but said his decision to retire came because he didn’t have the passion to play anymore. “For me, I felt like it was the perfect time -- my body, everything,” Willis said, according to NBC Sports Bay Area. “The stars aligned for me.”
Chris Borland retires, speaks out about concussions
Borland also retired from the 49ers, but unlike most athletes, he did so after just one NFL season. Borland had a good rookie season in 2014 and retired right after due to fears over concussions and the long-term health of his brain, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He became a popular interview subject on concussions during the height of a crisis for the NFL.
Jake Locker retires at 26
Locker was a first-round pick of the Titans in 2011 after a strong career as quarterback of the University of Washington. And while injuries and inconsistency marked his NFL career, when he decided to retire after just four seasons it was simply because he had enough of the NFL life. “I had to come to an understanding that I did not leave the NFL on bad terms. I was grateful for the experience,” Locker told SI. “I was just moving in a different direction.”
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