INDIANAPOLIS – Monday at the Union Federal Football Center was a unique day with the return of Chuck Pagano after successfully battling leukemia for three months.
“The inspiration Chuck has shown…it’s been a miraculous story,” said Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay. “It really is a book, it’s a fairy tale, it’s a Hollywood script. It’s all those things, but it’s real. Having Chuck take the (reins), I could not be happier.”
Pagano spoke warmly from his heart for 20 minutes before taking questions, then he adjourned to meet with his staff.
At the end of Monday, he extinguished the lights that had been left on in his office since his late September departure and on Tuesday around 1:00 p.m., he will turn them on and get back to the job he loves.
Pagano has been the Colts’ head coach for 11 months. One of his first orders of business was to instill the ethic and mindset that fits his style.
Personal accountability and a “why not” approach was part of his way. Players were taught to expect big things, to believe in themselves and to build a new monster.
Pagano was forced to leave his team at 1-2, then watched as it performed for 12 weeks. The 9-3 run in his absence was one of inspiration to him for a number of reasons. One was the “why not” mindset.
“You just watch this team play week in and week out. They have no quit in them,” said Pagano. “I look at the job Bruce Arians did and the rest of this staff. To every player, new and old and everybody who walked through that door, it was next man up. They just found ways to get things done.
“By what they did on the field, they were an inspiration to me, my family and everybody else in this community, the fans in the city. They brought hope to everybody.”
Almost 70 players have had game action in an injury-ravaged season that extended far past Pagano. More than 40 players have started, while 13 are on injured reserve.
Pagano was staring at something far greater than football, and he confronted it head on. Listening to the advice of his chief physician, Pagano used the same battling approach that
marked his 52 years, and his team. He never gave ground and expected to win.
While doing so, Pagano was seeing the same thing with his team, a fighting group that weekly asked, “why not?” It was a team that bonded closely together and offered a great football response to those outside who short-sold expectations.
“That’s what I talked to them (about on Monday),” said Pagano. “From day one, everyone was saying, ‘Here’s why you’re not going to be able to be good, or not going to be able to win games and have success. You’ve lost this, this, this and this. You have a new coach. You have a new GM. You have new players. You have a rookie quarterback.’ It went on and on and on.
“As a staff and team, we just refused to listen to all that stuff. We were going to decide where we were going to go as a football team and organization.”
Pagano stood publicly yesterday as a healed man, thanking thousands for the support they showed as he fought for his life.
He addressed his players and coaches, too, seeing a group that waged its battles while he was away. Pagano had no doubt in September that he would return. He is doing so to a team that has excelled, and one that lifted him up in a time of serious personal struggle.
“Here we stand at 10-5 and now having the ability to come back from what I’ve had to deal with, dealing with those set of circumstances,” said Pagano. “I had to look this thing in the eye. When I was told what I had and what I was going to go through, there was never a doubt I was going to win this battle. I fed off this team, believe me, for the last three months.”