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Colts owner Jim Irsay keeps door cracked for Andrew Luck comeback  3 Weeks ago

Source:   USA Today  

INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe Jim Irsay is grieving. It would make sense. A lot of Indianapolis Colts fans are grieving right now. And that’s what Jim Irsay is at heart: the lifelong leader of Colts nation.

And it seems that he, like so many others in the Colts community, is struggling to reckon with the fact that the face of his franchise is hanging up his helmet and calling it quits.

They say the first stage of grief is denial, and while Irsay is certainly not denying that Luck is retiring, he didn’t seem to ready to accept the idea that Luck is gone for good either. Perhaps, after knowing for about a week that Luck was leaving, Irsay’s "grief" has advanced to the third stage: bargaining.

On three separate occasions during Saturday night’s impromptu news conference, the owner suggested he could envision a future in which No. 12 one day returns to the Colts locker room.

MORE ON ANDREW LUCK

The first was unprompted. While talking about Luck’s reasoning — how injuries and recovery from them had sapped the fun out of football — Irsay started comparing this situation to two of the world’s most iconic athletes. Perhaps not coincidentally, each of them had mounted historic comebacks in their respective sports.

"We’ve seen Tiger Woods come back (from injury) and win the Masters; we’ve seen Michael Jordan retire and unretire (twice). In this case, we just wish (Luck) the best and maybe that he finds some clarity. Again, he’ll just be 30 years old (soon)."

A little later during the news conference, Irsay went on to say how ironic it was that ex-Colts coach Chuck Pagano was in Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night. Luck had highlighted Pagano too, but only in reference to being able to hug the first man he ever called head coach in the NFL. His NFL life, in a way, was coming full circle.

But Irsay took their meeting a step further, recalling how Pagano, the new Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, valiantly battled cancer on his way back to the football field.

Irsay's recounting of three comeback stories in a matter of minutes should not be dismissed. Nor should Irsay’s insights. Few people have had such unfettered access to Luck and his psyche these past eight years. Few know the battles Luck has waged, both mentally physically, and just how a tough a competitor he truly is. Given all of their time together, maybe Irsay can see something in Luck that the 29-year-old can’t even see himself.

When asked about a potential return, Luck didn’t exactly slam the door on the possibility, but he gave it a good push.

"I can’t see the future," said the emotional ex-quarterback, "but I very clearly in my mind see that I won’t."

Irsay, though, wasn’t ready to give up that hope. Don’t misunderstand. He’s not pushing Luck to come back. He was adamant that he didn’t try to talk Luck out of retiring. He understands that Luck needs his space. And time. Time to heal. Time to get away. Time to clear his head.

"He's only gonna be 30 next year," Irsay said. "It’s a transformative situation. It's a worm becoming a beautiful butterfly. It’s big. He has to change and evolve from this as a young man. And I think he’s determined to do that. What that means in terms of his career as a football player remains to be seen."

In other words, Irsay says, who's to say what's next for Luck? He's still a young man. His future remains wide open. If he wanted to come back, he wouldn't even have to decide soon. Quarterbacks have been known to play into their 40s. Tom Brady is getting to ready embark on his age 42 season. Luck’s predecessor, Peyton Manning, rode off into the sunset with a Super Bowl title at age 39. Forty-year-old Josh McCown just came out of retirement to play for the quarterback-strapped Philadelphia Eagles. If Luck does have a change of heart, there’s undoubtedly time.

More than halfway through Saturday night's news conference, when Irsay was finally asked definitively whether he thinks Luck would ever come back, he didn’t hide his optimism.

"You know, I don’t rule it out," Irsay said. "Because as quickly as this thing sort of descended on us, and as mysterious as it was coming upon us, it could leave the same way. ... I would say it’s possible.

"And (Luck would) be the first to tell you that no one knows. Only time will tell."

Call it bargaining. Call it wishful thinking. Call it whatever you want, but just know that when it comes to Luck's potential return to the franchise and the football field, Irsay isn't ready to close that particular door.

For those curious, Luck’s road back would be rather simple. Ask Brett Favre. In the NFL, it doesn’t take much to "un-retire."

Before that could happen, though, Luck will have to officially retire. He can and likely will do that by filing his retirement paperwork with the NFL soon. At that point, the Colts can put Luck on the reserve/retired list and then let Luck decide what happens next. Should he ever decide he wants to pull a Favre — or a Jordan — the Colts would retain his rights due to the two remaining years on his contract.

To be reinstated, pretty much all Luck would have to do is send a letter to the commissioner declaring his intent to return and wait for the paperwork to process.

And what a story that would be. Imagine for a moment, Luck returns to the franchise, leads them to playoffs and joins Chad Pennington as the only player to ever win AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year twice.

Sound crazy, doesn’t it? Almost as crazy as a 29-year-old MVP-caliber quarterback announcing his retirement two weeks before the start of a new season.

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