Welcome Back, Chuck Pagano

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The Indianapolis Colts welcomed back head coach Chuck Pagano Monday, following three months of the coach fighting - and beating - leukemia.

Welcome back, Coach.

Monday was the day we have been awaiting ever since Chuck Pagano was first diagnosed with leukemia on September 26th. We had been awaiting and anticipating his return, and Monday – on Christmas Eve – he did just that. Starting with addressing the team at 10, then addressing the media in an emotional press conference shortly after 12, Pagano assumed the head coaching duties back from Bruce Arians.

It seemed as if most of the coaching staff was in attendance. Some players, such as Cory Redding, were as well. Owner Jim Irsay and general manager Ryan Grigson both sat up on the platform behind their coach. There was a large media contingent. It was a special day in Indianapolis.

I mean, how many guys get a standing ovation from the media upon entering the room? Pagano was visibly moved by the sign of support, as he was with the support shown by the entire city and state of Indiana.

He mentioned that he couldn’t imagine a city embracing someone they hardly knew like they embraced Pagano.

Pagano was on the job for just a few months when he was diagnosed, but a causal observer would have thought he had spent years in Indy. There were the ChuckStrong t-shirts, the ChuckStrong wristbands, the shaved heads, the incredible wins – and then there was Coach P, overcoming a life threatening illness. He described it as “overwhelming” and “humbling”.

It took all of a few seconds for Pagano to have to start fighting back tears – from the moment he thanked his wife Tina for her incredible support, which included staying with him in the hospital, always being by his side.

Pagano thanked everyone – Tina, his family, Irsay, Grigson, the coaches, the players, the doctors, the media, the fans, even a nine-year old boy who gave him advice on how to fight leukemia – and he meant it. He thanked Irsay, saying that you won’t find a better man in the entire NFL. He thanked Grigson for his unwavering support. He thanked Arians for filling in for him: “All you went out and did was win us nine ball games… and got us into the playoffs yesterday… and did it with dignity… You’re everything I knew you were – and more.”

He added that “there’s no place I’d rather be than right here – as a Colt and living in this great state of Indiana… there’s no better place.”

What a day it was. Chuck Pagano said it was the second best day of his life, behind the day he married Tina.

And on that day where the normally fiery coach was fighting back tears, he still had his sense of humor, at one point addressing Arians and saying: “Damn, Bruce, you had to go win nine games? Tough act to follow. Best in the history of the NFL, and that’s what I have to come back to.”

It’s hard – no, almost impossible – not to root for Pagano. Players love him – and it’s easy to see why. I mean, with so many coaches losing their locker rooms in the NFL (Andy Reid, anyone), Pagano kept the complete support of his without even being there.

It’s on to Houston now for Pagano and the Colts, but not before he took time to look back. He gave a heartfelt thank you to everyone – even saying that his biggest fear entering today was that he’d forget someone. But Pagano also kept that same resolve and determination that Colts nation has come to love.

“My goal was to be 100% cancer free; hoist that Lombardi; dance at two weddings; and give back as much as I can.”

You already have given back so much, Coach. You’ve brought a team and a city together. You’ve given a city, a state, and a country hope. When you are thanking everyone, just know – the feeling is mutual. We thank you, coach, for fighting this cancer and beating it. We thank you for being ChuckStrong.

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