INDIANAPOLIS – Colts Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians did not need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blew on Friday.
Arians saw conditions were ripe for a visitor, so he dialed up his boss and invited him to practice. Chuck Pagano, feeling well in his fight with leukemia, headed over to see his guys.
“Chuck had a great day today,” said Arians. “The sun was shining and he broke his team down at practice. It was a beautiful moment.
“I called him this morning. I’m always afraid to invite him when we (practice) indoors because of germs. We were outside, (I said), ‘If the doc says it’s okay, please come.’ He came and enjoyed a good bunch of sunshine and talked to the guys. It was another beautiful day.”
Pagano was diagnosed with his condition in late September when the Colts stood at 1-2. Pagano is in the second round of chemotherapy. The second session started following his pre- and post-game visit with the team when it beat Miami, 23-20, on November 4.
The Colts now are on a four-game winning streak and are heading to New England to meet a Patriots team holding the same record.
For the Colts, Pagano’s situation is not about a slogan or emotion. It is about a purpose, and that is why Arians believes the team is on an elongated performance run that can last.
“No, I don’t think with emotion (players can sustain performance), but I think they can with purpose, the purpose being you’re not going to let each other down for one common goal,” said Arians. “I’ve seen it so many times when a group of guys band together and (have) different slogans, ‘Won’t Be Denied.’ They come up with something.
“This is just, ‘1-2-3, Chuck!’ ”
Arians has been coaching for nearly 40 years and has competed in football his whole life. He has seen teams in other sports find causes. Two Pittsburgh teams he was with were able to do so.
In 2004, the Steelers were sent to Miami early to beat the arrival of a hurricane. Power in the team hotel was lost and players were handed flashlights. A team-wide game of flashlight tag was a bonding agent and the club won 14 straight games and reached the AFC Championship game. A year later it won the Super Bowl.
Another Pittsburgh team went through multiple quarterbacks and offensive tackles in another Super Bowl year. Players found a way to hang together for a purpose.
“It’s more of the bonding in the locker room than anything else,” said Arians. “When they have a common goal, they care about each other. They don’t want to be the weak link.
“The first game of the year, Chuck passed out links of a chain to every player, ‘Don’t be the weak link.’ It’s kind of a common thread throughout everything.”
“I think it was a big impact to let everyone know he’s beating this disease. He’s winning the battle,” said Redding. “He said his body is like a D-1 college school. He was kind of joking that now he’s kicking the treatment’s butt. I think the guys really took the fact that he was out there, he was healthy. There was no mask on his face.
“It lets us know he’s winning the battle, and he’s that much closer to being on the field with us. He told stories about where (observers) pegged us, how nobody thought we could do this. If we go out there, keep working the process and do what you have to do, just look at the scoreboard at the end of the game. That’s what he was talking about.”
Pagano’s M.O. always has been to form relationships with his players, and he does so with the utmost sincerity. Coaches and players have bonded tightly in his absence, and what they feel is much more than a fighting phrase.
“It’s a purpose, not a slogan. It’s all about a purpose. It’s not about clichés. We have a purpose with what he says,” said Redding. “Everything we do is about Chuck. Keeping him alive, keeping his memories, keeping his presence and energy here. We remember why we do what we do.
“That’s why you get that extra breath when you’re tired, or when you do extra film study. When you’re doing something extra and feel like you’re dog-tired, just think about Chuck. He’s fighting, so you have to keep fighting.”
Arians said the target date for Pagano’s return still is December 30. Until then, Pagano very much is around.
“If you keep working the process of life – good days, bad days – just keep working the process and good things will come out of bad situations,” said Redding. “That’s the mindset we approach every game (with). We keep working the process.”
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