INDIANAPOLIS –While the Colts' coaching staff works today on its game plan for Sunday's contest with Green Bay, the light in Head Coach Chuck Pagano's office burns brightly.
It will remain that way, per the request of interim leader Bruce Arians, until Pagano returns to the sideline after fighting a bout with leukemia.
What Arians knows is that Pagano wants the team to forge on, something it must do for its sidelined leader who has laid a strong foundation over the previous eight months. That foundation will help bolster the Colts against a talented opponent.
One of the traits Pagano instilled was evident in the club's practice on Monday, just hours after it learned of his illness.
"Very spirited, just like I knew it would be," said Arians of the session. "The one thing about this bunch of guys, you never have to ask them to work hard. They give you everything they've got. It was a very spirited practice, a very good practice."
Arians learned of Pagano's illness on Sunday, and he observed the team's reaction when it was told yesterday.
It was a difficult reaction because of the relationship Pagano has forged with his first team as a head coach, but Arians knows the therapy the field provides as players cope with the situation.
"(It was) hard," said Arians of the players to learn the news. "That was tough because he's done such a good job of winning them over and having them play so hard. That's what was so pleasing about practice (Monday).
"The one thing about football players and football coaches, our safe haven is out there on the field. You leave everything in the locker room. Whether your family is sick, your kids are sick, anything that's a problem once we step out the door, it's just football.
"It's really a peaceful spot. All you think about is your job at that point in time, playing ball, then you get in the locker room and you deal with those other things. That's where we're at, and we'll continue to do it that way."
Arians is no stranger to what his close friend is dealing with. He had the same sobering news in 2007 while with Pittsburgh. A cancer diagnosis led to a radical prostatectomy, and he was fortunate enough to return to action.
"That phone call is not a fun one," said Arians. "I was sitting in my office and they kept telling me, 'There's nothing wrong, nothing wrong.' Then the doctor calls and tells you you've got cancer. You really don't remember the next 24 hours. I had a great doctor just like Chuck does, Dr. Nelson in Pittsburgh. He says look, 'Go buy this book, go home, read it, and I'll call you at 8:00 tonight, because you're not going to remember anything.' I'll tell you, I could hardly drive home.
"It's devastating to get that message. Then you figure out, like we always do, 'What's the plan?' You get a plan and you stick to the plan."
Arians is overseeing a team that has 23 players with no more than two year's of experience, a roster that boasts 10 rookies and only 21 players who were with the club prior to this season.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri was able to provide a veteran perspective.
"We're going to do the best we can to hold this place down until he gets back," said Vinatieri. "He's a fighter. He's a leader in this group of men. He'll be missed while he's not here. We're going to do our best to make him proud while he's gone.
"Obviously, his health and his family are the most important things. Football is a game. It's all of our livelihood and part of our lives. When he has to go through this as a group in this locker room, we're feeling for him and his family. We'll pull together the best we can to have him be able to just concentrate on what he's going through and not having to worry about any of us. There's nothing we'd rather do than bring a game ball back for him."
Pagano succeeded in building tight bonds with his players. Safety Tom Zbikowski noted as such, saying Pagano was that way in the four years he played under him in Baltimore. Zbikowski said Pagano was that way as his position coach (2008-10) and coordinator (2011), and it was the case here. Vinatieri has played for four previous head coaches, including Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy, and he likes what Pagano has done here in just eight months.
"He's shown us a lot of things just in the short period of time we've been here together," said Vinatieri. "Family, team, hard work and those types of things have been what he's instilled in this locker room. Those are the things he's going to continue with his battle, too. We're definitely pulling for him. We'll pull up the slack while he's gone. We can't wait to get him back as soon as we can.
"It's tough times. Life, in general, happens. This is a major speed bump for us right now. We're all going to rally around each other and get through this thing together."
Linebacker Robert Mathis is one of three players who were here in 2005 when the Colts family had a tragic experience with the passing of a family member of a head coach. This situation is fresh for the squad, and Mathis said this week will be a time for veterans to help the younger players.
"Because it kind of blind-sided us all, we haven't had a chance to talk to the young guys on that level with our experience with Coach Dungy," said Mathis. "At the same time, we are going to relay the message that we have been here during tough times, and we have to fight through it as a family. We need to let young guys know we've been through this, and you have to finish strong."
Safety Jerraud Powers is a team leader, and he knows what Arians means about the playing field being a place to divert feelings. Away from the field, Powers does not want to equate Pagano's illness to the game because of the importance involved.
"I don't like to put his situation in football," said Powers. "He's dealing with something that's far more important than a kid's game we're playing. We're playing a kid's game, and what he's dealing with is a life threat.
"Like B.A. (Arians) said earlier, 'As a football player, the only time you can find peace and put things to the side is when you're out on the field practicing.' That's where we have to keep our focus. At the end of the day, (he) is on our mind. We want Chuck to be healthy. We want the best for Chuck, his wife and his kids. We're praying for them."
As Monday turned into Tuesday, Tuesday will turn into Wednesday. Sunday means Green Bay in Lucas Oil Stadium, a chance for the club to play for its sidelined leader. Wednesday means the first time the team will be on the field in full preparations.
Powers said players and coaches will deal with thinking of its coach while trying to prepare without him. The key is focus and attention to the program Pagano set in place.
"It's not something we're not going to think about, but it does have to be clockwork and business like usual once we're focusing on Green Bay," said Powers. "We do have a job. We have a responsibility. Guys have to come in here and make sure we're focused on Green Bay and able to get the job done come Sunday. That's what he wants us to do. As a player, we have a responsibility as a whole. We have to come in like clockwork as usual and try to put what he's going through to the side a little bit once we're on the field."
As for Arians, he will remain in contact with Pagano.
"Oh yeah, every day," said Arians. "That's the friendship part, not the coaching part."
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS SIGN OLB-MARIO ADDISON TO PRACTICE SQUAD
The Indianapolis Colts today signed outside linebacker Mario Addison to the practice squad. Addison was acquired from waivers by the Colts on November 23, 2011 and was waived from the active roster yesterday. For his career, he has appeared in nine games, making five tackles.