As fans, we assume all professional athletes will keep competing and earning those multimillion-dollar paychecks for as long as they’re physically able, retiring only when they aren’t good enough anymore to compete at a serviceable level.
After all, if we, as middle-class pencil pushers and truck drivers, had the opportunity to play a game for a living and make seven figures to do so, we’d never dream of quitting. We’d have to be forced out, cut by every coach in the league kicking and screaming.
And this is how it is with most of the pros. But there are exceptions.
We’ve seen the occasional greats who’ve had enough soon after their 30th birthday, like Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, or Ken Dryden.
Then there are the extreme rarities: the elite athletes who walk away in their 20s. Bjorn Borg comes to mind. More recently, Patrick Willis hung up his cleats after his age-29 season.
It almost never happens. And that’s why the sports world felt sideswiped when Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the former No. 1 pick in the draft, retired on Saturday at 29 after just seven NFL seasons.
Injury after injury, and the mental toll of trying to recover from them, were the reasons Luck gave for his seemingly abrupt decision.
In the social media age, most of the reaction cycle was burned through within 24 hours. Colts fans booed, less emotionally invested observers praised Luck for getting out rich and (somewhat) healthy, and everyone who watches NFL games speculated about how it would impact the coming season.
The oddsmakers, meanwhile, had some unanticipated weekend work to do.
The Colts, who last year went 10-6 and made the playoffs with Luck back under center after missing all of 2017 due to injury, were the favorites to win the NFC South prior to Saturday’s news.
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook had them at -140. FanDuel Sportsbook in New Jersey and Pennsylvania was slightly less bullish at +110.
For at least a few hours after Adam Schefter broke the news, the sportsbooks took down their odds — not just on the Colts, but on their division rivals and, in some cases, on the whole NFL.
On Sunday, the odds went back up. With Jacoby Brissett as the starting QB, Indianapolis is +400 at Westgate and +500 at FanDuel.
Division rivals Houston, Jacksonville, and Tennessee were understandably affected. All were longshots to win the South with Luck in the mix. But remove the All-Pro quarterback from the equation and, at FanDuel, one of the books that should be operating in Indiana soon, the Texans are +130, the Jaguars are +270, and the Titans are +310. There’s only one longshot now. And it’s the Colts.
Indy went from 7/1 at FanDuel to win the AFC with Luck to 32/1 without him. At Westgate the team dropped from 6/1 to 30/1.
The Colts were a top-10 contender to win the Super Bowl with Luck. On the Gamble On podcast, we pounced on them at +1600 in February. This past Saturday morning, they were down to +1500 at FanDuel and +1200 at Westgate. Now they’re 60/1 at both locations.
Wins, Week 1, will they/won’t they
Division, conference, and league titles aren’t the only Colts odds that had to be reevaluated in the wake of the Luck-out.
Their win total at Westgate went from 9.5, with a -140 price on the over, down to 7.5 with a -130 charge on the under. The number is 7, with level -110 odds on both sides, at FanDuel.
The Colts swung from a -200 favorite at Westgate to make the playoffs to -300 not to be playing in the postseason. At FanDuel, the “no” is currently a whopping -500. (Believers in the Brissett-led Colts can get +360 there on the “yes.”)
What once looked like a marquee Week 1 game with the Colts visiting the Chargers in a battle of two of the top teams in the AFC now shapes up as a mismatch. The home team was about a field goal fave before the Luck news (which essentially says the two teams would have been a pick ’em on a neutral field). Now the Chargers are a touchdown favorite; Luck was worth four points.
If you’re feeling, well, out of luck if you made a futures bet on the Colts before the retirement news, some sportsbooks, including PointsBet, are offering goodwill-generating refunds.
Don’t count on such generosity from your friends if you drafted Luck already in your fantasy league.
It will be interesting to see how much ownership Brissett generates in Week 1 DFS, where DraftKings has him underpriced for a starting QB at $4,400 — $2,300 cheaper than Luck.
Tough timing for Indiana sportsbooks
The burgeoning Indiana legal sports betting industry was undoubtedly the last thing on Luck’s mind when he said farewell to the football field over the weekend. But the reality is that his decision is bound to strike at least a small blow to enthusiasm for wagering in the state.
Stats out of New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the first year post-PASPA have consistently shown the New York and Philadelphia teams to be the recipients of more than their rightful share of action.
In Indiana, basketball is generally recognized as the state’s signature sport, but the Colts were certainly expected to bring folks out to the books on Sundays and to inspire local fans to download betting apps. Although Indiana’s list of approved sports for betting includes plenty of offbeat options, NFL football drives the most action everywhere in America.
Legal sports betting can officially begin in Indiana on Sept. 1, and many land-based books are aiming to cut their ribbons before the Colts kick off on Sept. 8. The latest expectation for online/mobile sportsbooks is that some should be up and running by the middle of the season.
If the Colts are a sub-.500 team instead of a serious contender, it’s hardly a death blow. Indiana bettors (and those from neighboring states who visit to hit up the sportsbooks) will gladly bet on other games, and with the point spread acting as an equalizer, they might just pound the Colts on a weekly basis anyway.
But it is a potent combination when you can launch sports betting with a hometown team carrying championship aspirations. Luck’s decision deprives books and bettors of that.
Then again, as the Rhode Island sportsbooks learned when the Patriots won the Super Bowl last season, for the house, there are some short-term advantages to the local team being mediocre.
Photo by Brian Spurlock / USA Today Sports