Happy Birthday, Coach; A Recap of Indy’s Emotional Journey with Chuck Pagano.

One year and one day after a diagnosis of leukemia and an extended absence from the team due to treatment, Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano turned 53 Wednesday, and as of now, has a clean bill of health.

 

It was one year and one day ago that we, as fans, began to watch Chuck’s long road to recovery. We prayed, we cried, we grew quite fond of our old ball coach. Following an offseason that saw Peyton Manning and plenty others depart, there was every opportunity for a foundation to crumble following the news.

But Pagano’s diagnosis did exactly the opposite—it created a bond between a city, it’s team, it’s players, and most of all, Chuck. Week in and out, Indianapolis found a way to pull it out. And with each victory, there was emotion. And each week, everyone was treated to updates on Chuck’s health. The team, it seemed, had channeled Pagano’s will to beat his odds, and turned it into a will to win each week.

Now, a recap a few of the key moments from last year, as a reminder of how far this team, and it’s coach, has come.

Week 5 – Colts 30, Green Bay Packers 27

Reggie Wayne donned the orange gloves, against NFL Uniform Policy, to honor his coach. “ColtStrong” signs had become “ChuckStrong” banners. Videos played, fans honored, and then there was a football game to be played. And this game was for coach.

Down 21-3 at the half, quarterback Andrew Luck brought the team back, including a masterful final drive ending in a go-ahead touchdown to who else but Reggie Wayne.

The emotion from the players, from interim head coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and the underdog odds gave this game a special feel. As a fan, this was one of the more memorable games in my lifetime.

Week 9 – Colts 23, Miami Dolphins 20

There is nothing I have to say that would make this more meaningful than the video itself. You don’t have to be a Colts fan, or even a football fan, to tear up to this. Prior to this postgame speech, Luck threw for 433 yards, a rookie record, in leading his team to another final-drive win over Miami.

 

Week 17 – Colts 28, Houston Texans 16

The return. Following successful treatment, and medical clearance, Chuck was cleared to begin coaching again. And what better way to bring him back than a complete dominance of the division rival Houston Texans.

Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns, and kick-returner Deji Karim ran back a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, as the Colts were in full control throughout the entire game, and securing Indianapolis’ nine-game turnaround from their 2-14 campaign in 2011.

Following the game, and headed for Baltimore in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Colts, and more importantly Chuck, had earned the right to celebrate. And that they did.

Indianapolis has come a long way with their coach. As fans, we have grown a sentimental attachment towards Chuck, and rightfully so. Between last year’s triumph, and this year’s fast start, it would appear that the marriage between this city and this team is one that is going to be that of a long-lasting relationship. Buckle up, Indy. These guys are only getting started.

 

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