By Tony Paige
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Now that the Jets’ season is over and the bluster of the team has been silenced by the Steelers, a breath of athletic fresh air blew through the sports pages with nary a mention over the last couple of weeks.

You may have heard what college quarterback Andrew Luck, baseball pitcher Gil Meche and boxer John Duddy did, or rather didn’t do, but let’s review. It is truly refreshing.

You may recall that Stanford quarterback Luck beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, 40-12. He had a sterling game throwing four touchdowns. This just completed season, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound threw 32 touchdowns with only eight interceptions and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

With all that, he was poised to leave the collegiate ranks and head off to the NFL and a probable $50-60 million pro contract.

Surprise! He’s staying at Stanford for his senior year.

Not many athletes leave the kind of money on the table.

Sure, he can blow out a knee, or injure his shoulder or rack up any number of injuries, but Luck with try his on the college level for another year because – get this – he wants to graduate from college and earn his degree in architecture.

I wish him a great senior year, no drop off in effectiveness and, of course, no injuries.

Gil Meche has had some success as a pitcher in the majors for 10 years with the Seattle Mariners and the Kansas City Royals. Lifetime he posted an 84-83 mark.

His best season was in 2008 when he went 14-11 with a 3.98 ERA. He signed a $55 million, five-year deal in 2007.

He suffered arm injuries and last year he went 0-5 with a 5.69 ERA.

No problem. With today’s modern medicine, after surgery, he’d be back on the mound in no time, right?


Meche decided he didn’t want to undergo surgery and retired.

He is walking away from $12 million guaranteed.

He stated he didn’t want to be making 12 million and doing absolutely nothing.

Plus, there was no guarantee that he could pitch in 2011 even with the surgery.

Many athletes would just show up, make a token effort, put in the hard work, collect their paycheck and eventually go home battered, but handsomely paid.

Meche didn’t feel comfortable taking the money and not being able to earn it.

Good for him!

Then there is the case of middleweight contender John Duddy.

The handsome slugger from Ireland made a name for himself as a rugged brawler who wowed the fans in New York especially on one special night in Madison Square Garden.

He went toe-to-toe with former junior middleweight champion Yori Boy Campas back in September 2006.

It went down as one of the all-time slugfests. I should know, I broadcast the fight for the MSG network. They still run the fight and if you ever get the chance, tape it so you can see it over and over. Both men went at it for 12-rounds, with Duddy declared the victor.

Duddy, now 31, was set to battle another contender, Andy Lee, also from Ireland, with the bout to be aired on HBO on March 12. That’s right, on St. Patrick Day’s weekend.

Duddy was to make $100,000 for one nights’ work.

The winner would be in line to face middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.

Except Duddy (29-2; 18 KOs) pulled out of the fight.

No, he didn’t need more time to train and he wasn’t asking for a bigger purse.

He just had enough.

He didn’t have the desire or passion to go on any further.

Former welterweight contender Harold Weston once told me boxing is the worst nine-to-five job in the world if you aren’t fighting for a title shot.

Duddy was on the verge, but just couldn’t generate the desire to fight on.

He did the right thing.

Andrew Luck, Gil Meche and John Duddy are indeed breaths of fresh air.

Hopefully, there will be more like them in 2011.

What were your “fresh air” moments? Let us know in the comments below…

pixy Paige One: Fresh Air

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