Circumstances thrust Pagano into spotlight; his vision keeps him there

December 26, 2012
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Four months ago, most Indianapolis Colts fans, let alone central Indiana residents, couldn't pick Chuck Pagano out of a lineup.

Today, my 87-year old mother, who has never watched more than a handful of Colts plays in her life, knows his story.

Dr. Larry Cripe of the IU Simon Cancer Center was told in September that his newest patient was the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Cripe walked right past Pagano without recognizing him.

Cripe said he was looking for someone bigger, tougher, maybe more grizzled and perhaps adorned in gaudy jewelery. He envisioned Bill Belichick or Mike Ditka. Instead he found himself looking at an unassuming fellow sipping a cup of coffee.

The moment was pure Pagano, a man preferring to work behind the scenes in the glitzy world of the NFL. He seldom sought the spotlight, and he rarely found himself in it.

He is the type of guy who prefers carrying a lunch pail to ordering room service. He’s all Pabst Blue Ribbon and never Dom Perignon

He was the yin to the Twitter-loving, sometimes-boisterous, always-colorful Colts owner Jim Irsay's yang.

Pagano grew up in Colorado, the son of a longtime high school coach, and played football at the University of Wyoming. His 29-year coaching career included 14 stops—from the University of Miami to Boise State, from the Oakland Raiders to the Baltimore Ravens.

His relative anonymity ended abruptly when, during the Colts’ bye week in September, Pagano received the leukemia diagnosis. Cripe says now that in the first week or two after the diagnosis, Pagano could have died.

Suddenly, Pagano's health seemed to become the people's business. And the unassuming coach didn't shrink from it.

He and his doctor chose a path of transparency too often eschewed in the world of professional sports. He made inspirational speeches to his players about not letting "circumstances" define you, but instead living "a vision." Pagano spoke of living to dance at his daughters’ weddings and to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. And he made it clear the former was far more important than the latter.

In a year with much debate over whether Minnesota's Adrian Peterson or Denver's Peyton Manning is more worthy of NFL's comeback award, there's little doubt in Indiana that if that honor were extended to coaches, it should go to Pagano.

He energized an uncertain team. He moved a skeptical fanbase. He inspired a community. His story even spawned a line of ChuckStrong merchandise, which has largely sold out at Colts shops. Even opposing players were moved, with the visiting Packers donning ChuckStrong T-shirts before their game with the Colts.

And best of all. Pagano's story isn't over.

He indicated at his Christmas Eve press conference that the ChuckStrong movement will live on. There is already talk that the coach will work to form a foundation as soon as this storybook football season concludes.

Pagano left little doubt that he will work to make a difference in the fight against cancer. Pagano knows well that while he has won his battle for now, the larger war is far from over.

Back when Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson offered Pagano the Colts’ head coaching job, Pagano replied, "Let's hunt."

In terms of the Colts’ playoff run and pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy, as well as Pagano’s quest to dance at his daughters' weddings and make a difference in the fight against cancer, let the hunting begin.

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  • Thanks
    The story of Chuck Pagano is heartwarming to say the least and we want him to get and stay well for a long time.However beyond Chuck who else (i.e.the players) have reached out to Bruce and said thank you for leading us . Thank you for stepping in and taking charge. Thank you for rallying us in a time when we could have fallen totally apart. And better still has he done such a good job that he leaves at the end of the season? Everyone needs to thank Bruce for what he has done and will continue to do while he is here. How hard it must be to not be in totally in charge, then to be in charge and then to relinquish it again!!As much as I root for Pagano I have to say hurrah! to Ariens.
  • quality dude
    The Colts saga this year and the situation with Chuck shows what a quality dude he is. A true inspiration. It also highlights the fact the Colts owner Jim Irsay is supportive of his employees. I know Pagano is a highly-paid head coach but juxtapose the way Irsay treats his players and coaches compared to someone like Al Davis or George Steinbrenner. It's nice to have an owner with some heart in this town.

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  1. I think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...

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