The Pro Football Writers of America today announced that Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano has been selected as the 2013 George Halas Award winner. Pagano, the 44th Halas Award winner, is the third NFL head coach and fourth member of the Colts franchise to receive the honor from the PFWA.
The Halas Award is given to an NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed. The award is named for Halas, a charter member (1963) of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who was associated with the Chicago Bears and NFL from their inception in 1920 until his death in 1983 as an owner, manager, player and promoter. Halas won 324 games and six NFL titles in 40 seasons as a coach.
Pagano's 2012 season proved to be one of the most inspirational stories in NFL history. Named head coach of the Indianapolis Colts on January 25, 2012, he was forced to take a leave of absence just three games into the season after being diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a curable form of the disease, which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow cells.
Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians assumed interim head coaching duties while Pagano underwent treatment for the next 12 weeks of the season. From his hospital bed, Pagano was in constant communication with the coaching staff and players. He analyzed practices while continuing to game-plan schemes. Along the way, Pagano continued to make his presence felt. After the team's Week 9 victory against Miami, he gave a moving post-game speech to the contingent in the locker room.
"I've got circumstances," Pagano told the locker room. "You guys understand it, I understand it. It's already beat (referring to the leukemia). It's already beat. My vision that I'm living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then hoist that Lombardi Trophy several times."
Pagano made another return three weeks later during the team's win against Buffalo where he appeared in Owner & CEO Jim Irsay's suite while saluting the crowd on hand. Pagano received a rousing ovation from Colts fans in attendance.
As the season took shape, the Colts organization and Indianapolis community rallied behind their head coach. CHUCKSTRONG T-shirts and wristbands were offered with proceeds going toward leukemia research. The team established a collection benefitting leukemia research at their Oct. 21 game against Cleveland and also held a blood drive. Several Colts players shaved their heads in support of their head coach, while thousands in the Indianapolis community followed suit. Two Colts cheerleaders even raised $10,000 for leukemia research to shave their heads during the team's Nov. 25 contest against Buffalo.
As the regular season came to an end, the culmination of Arians' stretch as interim head coach concluded with the team's playoff-clinching victory at Kansas City (Week 16). The stage was set for Pagano to return after missing 12 weeks of action. In the week leading up to the game, Pagano addressed the media regarding his return.
"It's really great to be back," said Pagano. "Like a kid in a candy store, I get to come and be around the guys again. Do what I love to do and what I've done my whole life. Obviously we don't ever want to take anything for granted. I want you to know, our entire country to know and everybody in the NFL that was so kind, generous, loving and supportive what a privilege it is to coach in the National Football League. It is the greatest sport in the world and I feel very honored."
Division rival Houston visited Lucas Oil Stadium in the regular season finale in hopes of clinching the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Colts were not deterred, however, as the team corralled the emotion in Pagano's return and compiled a 28-16 win to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record. The real victory, however, was the return of a healthy Chuck Pagano. It was a day the Colts organization and fans will remember for generations.
GEORGE HALAS AWARD WINNERS (To the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed): 1970 – Joe Namath (New York Jets); 1971 – Gale Sayers (Chicago Bears); 1972 – Tom Dempsey (New Orleans Saints); 1973 – Jimmy Johnson (San Francisco 49ers); 1974 - Mike Tilleman (Atlanta Falcons); 1975 – Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears); 1976 – Billy Kilmer (Washington Redskins); 1977 – Tom DeLeone (Cleveland Browns); 1978 – Pat Fischer (Washington Redskins); 1979 – Bert Jones (Baltimore Colts); 1980 – Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys); 1981 – Rolf Benirschke (San Diego Chargers); 1982 – Joe Klecko (New York Jets); 1983 – Eddie Lee Ivery (Green Bay Packers); 1984 – Ted Hendricks (Los Angeles Raiders); 1985 – John Stallworth (Pittsburgh Steelers); 1986 – Gary Jeter (Los Angeles Rams); 1987 – William Andrews (Atlanta Falcons); 1988 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1989 – Karl Nelson (New York Giants); 1990 – Tim Krumrie (Cincinnati Bengals); 1991 – Dan Hampton (Chicago Bears); 1992 – Mike Utley (Detroit Lions); 1993 – Mark Bavaro (Cleveland Browns); 1994 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1995 – Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins); 1996 – Larry Brown (Oakland Raiders); 1997 – Jim Harbaugh (Indianapolis Colts); 1998 – Mark Schlereth (Denver Broncos); 1999 – Dan Reeves (Atlanta Falcons); 2000 – Bryant Young (San Francisco 49ers); 2001 – Kerry Collins (New York Giants); 2002 – Garrison Hearst (San Francisco 49ers); 2003 – Robert Edwards (Miami Dolphins); 2004 – Sam Mills (Carolina Panthers); 2005 – Mark Fields (Carolina Panthers); 2006 – Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts); 2007 – Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints); 2008 – Kevin Everett (Buffalo Bills); 2009 – Matt Bryant (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); 2010 – Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati Bengals); 2011 – Mike Heimerdinger (Tennessee Titans); 2012 – Robert Kraft (New England Patriots); 2013 – Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis Colts).