Andrew Luck Just Reset the NFL Season
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The ripple effects of Luck’s decision are readily apparent.
By Matt Foley
This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.
Things done changed. One week ago, the Colts were a tasty Super Bowl sleeper pick with a young, nasty offensive line finally capable of protecting its future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Then their luck ran out.
Andrew Luck’s decision to retire at 29, entering the prime of his career, was shocking but makes sense the more you think about it. Luck is opting to walk away with his body largely intact and inquisitive mind salvaged. It’s easy to imagine other players wanting to follow suit.
Adding to that speculation was Rob Gronkowski’s recent emotional testimony about his own retirement. It wasn’t just his body breaking down, Gronk says; it was the unbearable mental toll of those injuries. We have reached a tipping point in how professional athletes discuss mental health, but few have the financial flexibility of Gronk (who’s made around $53 million in career earnings) or Luck (about $97 million).
The ripple effects of Luck’s decision are readily apparent. The AFC South is Houston’s to win. Indianapolis will give backup Jacoby Brissett every chance to succeed in Frank Reich’s innovative system, but look for the Colts to be aggressive on the trade market. New Orleans’ Teddy Bridgewater could be a good fit for the Colts. Eli Manning and Case Keenum could also be stopgaps.
And those who follow Colin Kaepernick’s IG know he’s “still ready.”
Most importantly, though, Luck’s decision is another win for a quarterback who has had far better fortune in the league. With Luck retired, the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes II are the only true threat to ending Tom Brady’s reign of terror.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
College Football: No. 14 Utah at Brigham Young (Thursday at 10:15 pm ET on ESPN)
He’s a Pac-12 favorite and College Football Playoff sleeper, but can senior quarterback Tyler Huntley and Utah outlast in-state rival BYU in a brutal home opener?
Major League Soccer: Atlanta United at Philadelphia Union (Sunday at 7:30 pm ET on ESPN+)
With less than two months remaining in the MLS season, the top two clubs in the Eastern Conference square off for the last time until a potential conference finals matchup.
Ones to Watch
Ansu Fati. On Saturday, 16-year-old Fati became the youngest player to play for FC Barcelona’s first team in 78 years. Born in the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, Fati moved to Seville, Spain, when he was 6 and quickly picked up football. “I’ve been in football for 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like him,” his former coach, Jose Luis Perez Mena, told Diario AS. Fati joined Barca’s youth academy as a 10-year-old in 2013, rising up the ranks to the Barcelona B reserves. Aided by injuries to Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, the winger capped for the first team before ever suiting up for the reserves. Fati made his Barca debut on Sunday, coming on for Carlos Perez in the 78th minute of a 5-2 win over Real Betis. The historic debut nearly had a Hollywood finish when Fati dragged a shot attempt wide in the 86th minute. With the appearance, Fati became the second-youngest player to debut for Barcelona. After the game, the youngster shared an embrace — perhaps a nod to a future passing of the torch — with Barca captain Messi. Fati, who will likely head to the Barca reserves once Messi and Suarez return, is signed through 2022.
Napheesa Collier. A rookie forward for Minnesota, Collier has the four-time WNBA champion Lynx (16-15) on the verge of a playoff berth for the ninth straight season. The Lynx currently slot as the sixth seed, meaning they’d likely meet the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round. With 12.9 points per game, Collier ranks second among all rookies — and 21st overall — in scoring, second in rebounds (6.4 per game), fourth in assists (2.6 per game) and first in steals (1.9 per game). While those aren’t eye-popping stat lines yet, Collier has steadily anchored the defense and provided a level of consistency and floor leadership typical of savvy veterans. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The No. 6 overall 2019 draft pick was a two-time All-American, AAC Defensive Player of the Year (2019) and national champion (2016) during her four seasons at collegiate powerhouse UConn. As a duo, Collier and Chicago Sky rookie Katie Lou Samuelson scored the most points (4,688) in UConn history. With a professional playoff experience under her belt, look for Collier to elevate to All-Star status in 2020.
A Big Apple Breakthrough? After a relatively predictable first two rounds of U.S. Open action in Queens, tennis fans would not be blamed for assuming that the Tennis Championships may once again come down to the dominant trio of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. That triumvirate has claimed 11 consecutive major tournaments — and 39 of 47 since Djokovic emerged in 2008. But will this be the Open that a new face breaks through? One name to watch is Daniil Medvedev. A 6-foot-6 Russian with a powerful game, Medvedev is hardly an underdog. The fifth-seeded Medvedev defeated Djokovic last week to win the Cincinnati ATP Masters 1000 and is the fourth favorite to win the Open, according to bookmaker William Hill (11-1). Medvedev has yet to advance beyond the round of 16 in a major, but a run of three finals in the past few weeks makes him a clear candidate to break through. Similarly, 21-year-old Alexander Zverev (No. 6) could push Nadal (No. 2), should they meet in the quarterfinals. On a much wider open women’s side, No. 8 Serena Williams is the clear favorite ahead of French Open champ Ashleigh Barty (No. 2) and reigning Open champ Naomi Osaka (No. 1).
Prep Sports Involvement. For the first time in 30 years, participation in high school sports dropped, according to an annual survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations. The 2018–19 total of 7,937,491 participants was a decline of 43,395 from the previous school year’s record high. Of course, this could simply be a blip, but stark decreases in football have some concerned that the trend could continue. Participation in 11-man football declined for the fifth straight year, reaching its lowest mark (1,006,013 athletes) since 2000. Meanwhile, participation in boys six-, eight- and nine-player football — sports that emphasize less contact and groom athletes to shine in the spread offense — is up, and girls 11-player football has doubled over the past 10 years. Elsewhere, boys and girls lacrosse is up 19 percent, boys soccer is up 9 percent and boys volleyball is up 26 percent since 2012. Despite the concerns, 11-player football remains the most popular boys sport in America, followed by track and field, basketball, baseball and soccer. On the girls side, track and field (488,267 athletes) leads the way, with volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball rounding out the top five.
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Gauff’s Wimbledon run this summer, in which she upset Venus Williams, may have raised expectations, but she has the opportunity to become a transcendent figure on and off the court. Just like her idol, Serena Williams.
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“You know, if you think about it,” Curry says now with a smile, “I’m probably the highest-paid player per second in NBA history.” Curry rose, he fell, he would be broke, he would be broken. But basketball would find a way to change JamesOn Curry’s life, just not in the way he ever thought it would.
Men’s Tennis Waits (and Waits) for New Blood, by Ben Rothenberg/The New York Times
Marin Cilic remembers looking up and seeing the confirmation that he had achieved a dream. His name on a screen with “Champion of US Open 2014,” after he defeated Kei Nishikori to claim his first Grand Slam title.
For Christian Yelich, Hitting Is Far From a Science, by Matthew Gutierrez/The Washington Post
See ball, hit ball. Christian Yelich’s mind is never cluttered with swing thoughts, launch angle or all of the intricate choreography it takes to square up a baseball. He needs to play without the noise, without judging every swing.
College football, and all of its bizarrely inspirational traditions, is officially back. Here’s why Clemson touches a rock.