INDIANAPOLIS –Adam Vinatieri was a face in the crowd on Monday at the Union Federal Football Center when Head Coach Chuck Pagano met with the full team there for the first time in three months.
A 17-year pro, Vinatieri has seen occasions of all kinds in this league, and he has been a part of priceless moments.
Monday's appearance by Pagano was a unique one in Vinatieri's career. It was one greater than the sport the kicker plays.
"For sure. Football is a great game and it's a job and all that. There are a lot of moments in life that are about life. This was football, but also life," said Vinatieri. "This was a challenge that was off-the-field. It was a challenge coach had to go through to get back here, and it was awesome.
"There is a lot of emotion in football, a lot of great things that happen on the field. This was one of those great 'life' moments."
Vinatieri has played under some of the game's greats in Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy. He has seen their leadership methods produce champions, and now he is seeing Pagano in his first season at the helm of an NFL team.
Pagano left the Colts after three games, never being completely out of touch as he fought leukemia. He communicated through texts and emails, while his hand-picked interim, Bruce Arians, repeated the mantras established by Pagano prior to his illness.
"We always felt his presence in this building at all times. There was never a time we didn't sense him," said Vinatieri. "We always kept his goal and his dream and what he wanted for the team first and foremost. To be able to keep moving forward with that and now having him back is awesome."
Arians related a few anecdotes of Pagano's "coaching" through various mediums while away. Prior to the Buffalo game, he texted rookie punt returner T.Y. Hilton to, "just stretch it and hit it," as he fielded the ball. Five minutes into the game, Hilton returned a punt 75 yards for a score.
The grizzled veteran kicker got pointers from his coach, too. Vinatieri appreciated Pagano's tone and tutelage in such a tough personal circumstance.
"There were a lot of messages and I think there were a lot of them that he sent to a lot of different guys," said Vinatieri. "There is nothing I would share specifically, but they were motivational messages to keep doing what we were doing and keep the leadership going.
"They were all of his goals, things you see on the walls of the locker room. He reiterated those, and it was pretty good stuff."
Pagano was greeted Monday by the players and coaches with a standing ovation, one Reggie Wayne said probably was as extended as any he ever has seen.
Moments like that are not common. The emotion was evident, and it was a unique situation to absorb. That feeling for Pagano is prevalent with all players, and Vinatieri loves having his coach back.
"It's going to be business as usual but having him around now and back on the field and at practice is awesome," said Vinatieri. "You look at our battles on the football field, and it was nothing like the battle he went through. He was victorious in his fight, and we're going to keep trying to do that in our challenges, too."