After I heard the shocking news of Chuck Pagano's leukemia diagnosis, my heart totally sank. I felt some sadness, but questions began to immediately race through my mind. Naturally, the first was, "Will he be okay?"
Thankfully, the road to recovery is very promising, or so says Dr. Larry Cripe, Pagano's doctor. Coach P can, and will, beat this. However, let's not forget that cancer is an extremely complicated disease. It's the second leading cause of death in the country and has affected most of our families in some way.
In fact, just last spring, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, which is also a very treatable form of cancer. This didn't make it any less scary, though. The word cancer, alone, is enough to incite fear in even the bravest of human beings. Yes, even The Italian Stallion.
Like we've also heard about Pagano, my mom is a fighter. She will not give up. Ever. And after a grueling regimen of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and various other treatments, she made her way out of the darkness. She had beaten cancer. And you know what was the first thing she said to me after she was in the clear? That she would have never made it without us--her family.
From the very day that Pagano stepped into the building, he established himself as a leader. He implanted a message into the mind of the organization and the fans. That message? Build. The. Monster.
We hear it all the time, but what does it really mean?
You can decide, but for me, at least up until yesterday, it meant being tough, physical, and working harder than the next team to build a perennial contender. That sufficed and was great, but I quickly realized that it had now taken on a totally new meaning.
For those of you that have played organized sports, you have most likely experienced the camaraderie that develops between teammates. A brotherhood (or sisterhood) steadily grows with time, and it doesn't matter at what level, it's just part of the game. However, not every athlete is lucky enough to have a coach that they can relate to on a similar level; a coach that wants to build a family atmosphere with his team, on and off the field.
"He talks to every player coming in every morning, bad jokes and all," outside linebacker Robert Mathis said. "He just makes life enjoyable and makes it seem like less a job than what it is."
Mike McGlynn was even more direct when talking about Pagano's influence on his players.
"Coach Pagano has been like a father figure with all of us."
Pat Angerer provided this beauty:
"If anybody can get through this it's him," linebacker Pat Angerer said. "He's a fighter, he's a Colt and he'll get through it. If my son grows up to be like him, I'll be happy."
Ray Lewis offered this incredible quote via PFT Live on Tuesday after he was asked about his former defensive coordinator:
"That he's a man of men," Lewis said. "He's a man that people want to aspire to be like. That when you grow up as a man, that when you're around Chuck you realize that, you know what, if life offers nothing else it offered me the opportunity to be around a man. A true man."
We often hear about a "player's coach," but it isn't every day that you see a NFL player call his coach a "father figure," or someone that they'd like their son to emulate. Think about what that means, and then consider that Angerer and McGlynn are talking about a rookie head coach that has been at the helm for only three regular season games.
For me, this not only speaks to Pagano, the man, but also the influence of his message. Sure, you can see that he's a likable, intelligent, and comically honest guy in his interviews, but these quotes peel back a layer within his locker room that make me glad that he got the job.
Furthermore, "Build the Monster" not only stands for all of those cool, inspiring football elements that we commonly embrace, but also the strength of this organization and what they're building. To "Build the Monster," a football family, means to build a bond so strong, so connected, so rock-solid, that it stands the test of time. Players and coaches will come and go, but this frame provides you with the strength to persevere, together, through even the most difficult of times. It gives you the mentality to beat one of the NFL's elite teams on Sunday, because you know that as your coach prepares for a great battle, he's not going to relinquish his message or begin waving the white flag, so why in the hell would you?
You're in this fight together; you're a family. Often, we hear about the family-like bond that is built through sports, specifically in the NFL, and "Build the Monster" is just another shining example of that unique bond.
Whether Pagano is here for two years, three, or ten, this much is clear: After just three regular season games, this organization, from top to bottom, will tell you that he has already made a special impression on the culture of the horseshoe.
Now that's #ChuckStrong.
Get well, Coach P.