FILE – In this Aug. 9, 2018, file photo, Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly chases a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)
I’m not a sports writer nor do I keep up with sports stats, history, and the like. But I do like watching both college and professional sports on occasion, though I don’t keep up with my favorite teams nearly as much as I used to.
The watching of games includes tuning in to Carolina Panthers games on Sundays, in spite of the “woke culture” that has permeated the NFL over the last several years. Thankfully, former head coach Ron Rivera wasn’t a big proponent of kneeling during the anthem or related types of political protests, even though the team did bring on Colin Kaepernick’s pal Eric Reid in September 2018.
Not to be overly dramatic, but sitting through Panthers games this past season was about as enjoyable as doing your taxes. The team finished at a dismal 5-11, in last place in the NFC South.
Nevertheless, I still watched most of them for a couple of reasons. One was to see Christian McCaffrey (RB) in action, working his magic and setting records. The guy has been a joy to watch every week and his enthusiasm was contagious in what was an otherwise bleak season.
The other reason was Luke Kuechly (LB), who absolutely threw his heart and soul into every game and every play year after year, no matter how bad we were losing. To say he was in beast mode on every play would be an understatement.
Kuechly unquestionably loved the game. His whole life was football. He was also very, very good at what he did:
Luke Kuechly since entering the NFL in 2012:
* 1,092 tackles (1st in the NFL)
* 7 Pro Bowls (T-1st)
* 5x First-Team All-Pro (T-1st)
* 18 INT (most amongst LB)
* NFL Defensive Player of the Year
* Defensive Rookie of the Year
* 7 seasons as a team captain
A Hall of Fame resumé.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 15, 2020
But this week he shocked the sports world and Charlotte, NC especially by announcing his retirement from the sport after playing all 8 years he was in the league with the Panthers.
Watch his emotional retirement speech below:
“In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do.” pic.twitter.com/mSDyJ0iEMw
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 15, 2020
The tributes and well-wishes poured in from players and the fans, and from rival teams’ players and the sports media:
Watching him and Drew audible before plays when each would make an adjustment til that play clock got down to the final second was one of the coolest things in all of the NFL.
— Brady Powell (@powellbradyc) January 15, 2020
First reaction to Luke Kuechly's retirement was shock. Luke has been in the middle since he became a Panther in 2012, seemingly in the middle of every play. Second reaction: Good. Luke has suffered 3 documented concussions. At 28, he has a long life to live. Live it well, Luke.
— Tom Sorensen (@tomsorensen) January 15, 2020
Why are we feeling so bad after Luke Kuechly’s retirement? Thoughts on the bombshell dropped by No. 59, retiring from the sport at age 28. https://t.co/9Kk18dHKHr
— Scott Fowler (@scott_fowler) January 15, 2020
Kuechly did not act like a pampered sports prima donna when he was on the field, nor did he when he was off the field.
He came to the stadium to do a job, to do it well, and go home. He wasn’t much for frills, and didn’t care to have his name in the paper every day, but he did do a lot of good for the Charlotte community in his off time.
For people weary of the drama that has played out in the NFL over the last few years, Kuechly was a breath of fresh air. A football player’s football player. A man’s man.
He trained hard, worked hard, played hard, and earned respect – not by talking a big talk, but by walking the walk, both on and off the field.
He put a sobering face on NFL concussions after one particularly hard hit after which he left the field scared and in tears, appearing dazed:
As a fellow linebacker in the 2012 draft, Luke Kuechly was the cream of the crop.
I respect the hell out of his decision to retire. He missed 3 games in ‘15, & the final 6 games of ‘16 with a concussion. He is a hall of famer, but life is more than football. pic.twitter.com/O7ep4ZxjJP
— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) January 15, 2020
Kuechly didn’t give any hints in his retirement announcement as to what if anything he would do career-wise going forward, but a couple of possibilities come to mind.
He could easily go the Tony Romo route and be an NFL commentator. Or he could be a defensive coach in the NFL. He’d be able to name his price. Any NFL team would be honored and eager to bring him on.
But he’s probably not thinking much about any of that right now.
He will be missed, as both a unique football player and leader in an era full of inflated sports egos. Thank you, Luke.