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Indianapolis Colts stay Chuckstrong

Marques Eversoll, Sports Writer
November 14, 2012
Filed under Sports

Not much was expected from the Indianapolis Colts prior to the season, but the team has proved to be about much more than just the game this year.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King picked the Colts to win five or six games this year. Not one of ESPN’s NFL experts predicted a winning season for Indianapolis.

After all, the Colts went just 2-14 last year without quarterback Peyton Manning, who was sidelined with a neck injury. Manning, the four-time league MVP, was released March 7 and ultimately signed with the Denver Broncos.

After the Colts’ worst season since 1991, Manning was gone and head coach Jim Caldwell was fired. Indianapolis was headed in a new direction.

Also in need of a new head coach, the Colts then hired Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

Although he was in charge of the league’s No. 3 defense in 2011, Pagano had never been a head coach at any level. Despite being inexperienced, Luck and Pagano were given the keys to the franchise.

The Colts started the season 1-2, getting blown out by the Chicago Bears on opening weekend and suffering a disappointing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in week three. The Colts faced a crossroads at its bye during week four.

Things continued to get worse for the team. Pagano, 61, was diagnosed with acute leukemia Sept. 26.

The condition is a cancer of the bone marrow tissue. According to Dr. Larry Cripe, Pagano’s specialist, Pagano would complete four to six weeks of treatment, including chemotherapy transfusions, antibiotics and other medications to minimize the side effects and complications of treatment.

The Colts had to move forward. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took over as head coach, and the Colts prepared to host the reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

With Arians on the sideline and Pagano watching the game from a local hospital, the Colts did what they could to keep Pagano a part of game day. In pre-game warm-ups, players from both teams wore T-shirts that read “Chuckstrong.”

While the rest of the league wore pink equipment for breast cancer awareness, wide receiver Reggie Wayne wore orange, the cancer awareness color for leukemia, out of respect for Pagano. The Colts trailed 3-21 at halftime but fought back and defeated the Packers 30-27. Wayne caught 13 passes for 212 yards, and the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining.

Following the Colts’ dramatic victory, Colts owner Jim Irsay delivered the game ball to Pagano at IU Health Simon Cancer Center in downtown Indianapolis.

The Colts won five of six games since Pagano was hospitalized during the bye week. Pagano was able to watch his Colts play the Miami Dolphins in week nine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Pagano visited his players in the locker room after the game and delivered an emotional speech. Pagano stressed the importance of not letting hard times dictate how to live day by day.

“You know where they had us in the beginning, every last one of them,” Pagano said. “You refused to live in circumstances, and you decided to live a vision. That’s why you bring things home like you brought things home today. That’s why you’re already champions and well on your way.”

More than two dozen Colts players have shaved their heads in support of their head coach.

“I’ve got circumstances. You guys understand it, and I understand it. It’s already beat. My vision is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then hoist that Lombardi Trophy.”

James Brown of CBS Sports says there are parallels between Pagano’s battle with cancer and the Colts’ success this season.

“We often talk about sports being such a microcosm of society at large, how to overcome difficulties, persevere until the game is over,” Brown said. “He’s displaying what the real fight and the game of life is all about. His players are learning from that as well.”

The Colts now sit at 6-3 on the season after defeating the Jaguars 27-10 Nov 8.

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