Carolina Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith says he gets it why some football fans can’t fathom why Andrew Luck would retire two weeks before the start of an NFL season.
Luck, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback and No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, is giving up football over a cycle of injury, pain and recovery he says he can no longer tolerate. That decision drew not just shock from fans, but in some cases anger. Luck heard boos from Colts fans as he left the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday after reports of his impending retirement surfaced.
Luck was scheduled to make about $21 million this season. Smith said he understands how most people can’t relate to forfeiting all that money. But what’s also different is the physical toll of football.
“It’s hard for people to relate (to the damage to players bodies) because they put dollar signs in it,” said Smith, entering his ninth NFL season. “It’s hard for someone to feel sorry for you because, ‘I work 18 hours a day and I’m making $10 an hour, and you’re making millions of dollars.’ That’s tough for people (to digest).”
Smith says he appreciates this on a personal level; his mother and grandmother -- the two hardest-workers he knows -- made less combined over their work lives than Smith made as an NFL rookie.
“But if your body’s hurting, your body’s hurting. It doesn’t matter if you’re Mr. (David) Tepper (the Panthers’ billionaire owner) or a janitor,” Smith said. “You know if you have the option (to retire), that’s simply life.
“Football is a choice. It probably helps when you’ve made close to a hundred million dollars, but when you’re hurt, you’re hurt.”
Luck has dealt with shoulder, rib and, most recently, calf issues over the past several years. He broke into tears at a news conference Saturday night while reading a prepared statement, including that the cycle of injuries and pain had taken the joy out of football.
Luck said the boos he heard from Colts fans hurt him.
Smith said it’s hard for fans to grasp how difficult it is to manage your body to get through the constant high-speed collisions inherent to an NFL season.
“It’s a grind. There are a lot of things you have to do throughout the week just to get to the next Sunday,” Smith said. “You’re hurting in practice each and every week and you’re just hoping you feel fresh by Sunday. The longer the season goes, the longer (recovery) takes.
“You might be feeling good by Friday the first few weeks of the season, and by the end, you’re saying, ‘Please just get me to Sunday.’ Guys are spending hours and hours taking care of their bodies away from” the normal work schedule.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who played in the NFL from 1984 through 1992, said probably the biggest difference from when he played to now is guaranteed money has risen to a level that players often have the means now to retire as a choice before they break down physically or age out.
“Nothing was guaranteed. There were very few guarantees, so you always tried to get back out there as quick as you can, after injury,” Rivera said. “Some (injuries) that take a little bit longer today, I promise you didn’t take as long back then. But you didn’t know any better (about the bodily damage being done).”
▪ Quarterback Cam Newton again didn’t practice Sunday, following the left mid-foot sprain he suffered Thursday against the New England Patriots. However, when Newton walked through the locker room when it was open to media, he no longer was in a protective boot and had no apparent limp.
▪ Cornerback Kevon Seymour is back after missing time with a hamstring injury. Seymour missed all of last season with a labrum injury. Rivera said Seymour isn’t cleared for full activity yet, but did some work Sunday with his position group. The goal is for Seymour to play Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final preseason game.
▪ Rivera said rookie offensive tackle Greg Little, who left the Patriots game with a possible concussion, is progressing well. Rivera added that players with Little’s stoic nature can be deceiving when dealing with injury: “I saw him after the game, and he said ‘I’m fine, coach.’ You’ve got to make sure the doctors are the ones who go through the process before we clear anybody. If you ask him, he’s going to say, ‘I’m fine.’ That’s who he is.”
▪ Rookie quarterback Will Grier, the third-round pick, is where Rivera expects him to be in development, based on how much work he’s gotten this preseason: “If you’ve got 15 reps (among the quarterbacks), he’s not getting eight. He’s getting three, four or five, depending on the rotation. It takes 5,000 reps before things become second-nature, become habit-forming.”
Rivera said he’s confident with Grier: “He’s going to help us someday.”
▪ Safety Rashaan Gaulden practiced Saturday and Sunday after he was left in Charlotte for the Patriots game. Rivera called Gaulden’s absence a “coaching decision” after Gaulden left practice midway through the session Tuesday.
“I’m not going to go into any specifics as of what went on,” Gaulden said Sunday. “The good news is I’m here, I’m healthy, and I look forward to help this team.”