Last season, many speculated just how different things would have been if the Indianapolis Colts had decided to keep Peyton Manning at quarterback. Just like Andrew Luck in 2012, Manning would likely have had to cope with head coach Chuck Pagano’s leukemia, which forced Pagano to take a leave of absence from the team just three games into his tenure. Pagano returned to the team for Week 17, and by then the Colts had secured a playoff berth.
With the news Saturday evening that Manning’s current head coach, John Fox of the Denver Broncos, will require a 4-to-6 week absence from the team has he undergoes surgery on his aorta heart valve, it now seems that Manning will indeed have to go through something similar to what his old club endured in 2012.
Obviously, just like with Chuck Pagano last season and with anyone having to go through a very delicate and complicated medical procedure, we wish Coach Fox well and hope he recovers quickly and completely.
For the Denver Broncos, they must sally forth into the meat of their division games, including two against AFC West-leading Kansas City, without their head coach.
Last season, the young and extremely inexperienced Colts were buoyed by interim head coach Bruce Arians. Arians took over for Pagano, and the transition seemed smooth and effective. Arians also adopted a short but effective message for his team: The goal was to "extend this season so [Chuck] can be back on the sidelines with us, healthy." Andrew Luck thrived under Arians’ tutelage, and the team’s corps players rallied around the "ChuckStrong" message, dedicating their season to their coach battling cancer.
For his efforts, Arians was award the NFL Coach of the Year Award for 2012.
The poignant moment in the locker room following Indianapolis’ win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 9 last season, which featured a thin and weary-looking Pagano returning to the stadium to watch the game, was especially moving. Pagano’s speech after that win is one they will replay for years. Decades, even.
Now, it seems Denver must do something similar to what Indianapolis did: Rally around each other, and win.
The chances are good that Fox will return to the team before the end of the regular season, which is excellent news. What Denver also has in its favor is a core group of very stable, experienced veterans who know what is takes to win. One of them is Manning.
The "coach on the field" reputation that Manning carries with him will certainly be tested while Fox is out. The question of who will coach the entire team in Fox’s absence still has not been answered. The logical choice is defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and for longtime Colts fans, the thought of a Del Rio coached team with Peyton Manning as his quarterback should bring a wry smile.
Del Rio coached the Jacksonville Jaguars for nine seasons, from 2003-2010, and Manning and the Colts dominated him during that span.
Regardless of who is named interim head coach, Denver is equipped to handle Fox’s absence on the field. The situation also has the potential to make Denver even more dangerous a football team than they were before. They now have an emotional rallying cry, and as the 2012 Indianapolis Colts will tell you, all the scheming in the world can't stop a team with the determination to win.
Football is a game of endurance and will, and few things drive that point home to players than the sight of their head coach injured or sickly in a hospital bed while the rest of them gear up on Sunday.
It will be interesting to see how Denver responds and deals with this new adversity. For those who wanted to know how Peyton Manning would have dealt with a situation similar to what Luck and the Colts faced last season, now you’ll find out.
For more news and insight on the John Fox story, check out Mile High Report.