Colts have a history with handling adversity

May, 19, 2014
May 19
10:00
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- The choice to curl up in the fetal position to avoid the challenge that lay ahead was waiting for the Indianapolis Colts the past two seasons.

A head coach that missed 12 weeks as he battled leukemia. A rookie quarterback taking over a 14-loss team from the year before. Five offensive players, including a likely Hall of Fame receiver, going down with season-ending injuries.

[+] EnlargeChuck Pagano
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCoach Chuck Pagano's Colts need to improve their offensive line play to help a lowly rushing attack.
But there the Colts stood when it was all said and done with 11 wins in each of the past two seasons.

That's why as the organization was dealt a devastating blow to the gut by the announced NFL suspension of pass-rush artist Robert Mathis last week and the possible suspension of owner Jim Irsay at some point, there hasn't been any wavering of what the expectations are for next season.

That's not how the Colts approach things. That message was relayed more than two years ago, when general manager Ryan Grigson took over the rebuilding franchise and hired an unproven head coach in Chuck Pagano. And that was the message passed through the facility on the west side of Indianapolis after Mathis was suspended.

"We’ve had our fair share of bumps in the road," Grigson said. "We’ve had quite a bit of significant ones, but at the end of the day, we know we’re judged by wins and losses. This league is all about the bottom line, and we understand that.

"You can't sit there and cry a river when you have mounting injuries or you have unfortunate things happen because it's just life, and it's life in the NFL. We roll with the punches."

Ask anybody in the Colts organization why they haven’t fallen apart or even shown signs of cracking, and they point at Pagano.

Pagano didn’t have to overcome a broken arm or foot to return to the sidelines in 2012. He was in a nasty slugfest with cancer. It was a fight that took him out for 12 weeks, but he returned at the end of that season and hasn’t left since.

"I’ve been around a lot of teams and college teams, and this franchise is a no-excuse franchise," Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said.

Pagano doesn’t look at his illness as the reason the Colts have managed to overcome the obstacles that seem to continue to get in their way.

It boils down to trust, loyalty and respect with Indianapolis, something Irsay has constantly preached, to go with exceptional talent.

Colts southeast regional scout Jamie Moore put on a presentation last year in which he researched some of professional sports' legendary dynasties: the Montreal Canadiens, New York Yankees and Boston Celtics.

The Colts are far from a dynasty. They’ve yet to win a Super Bowl with Andrew Luck at quarterback. What Grigson and Pagano took away from the presentation, though, was the blueprint those teams used to build their franchises: being innovative, thinking outside the box and -- probably the most important of the three -- checking egos at the door.

The Colts have avoided internal conflicts because everybody has the same goal: winning as many games as possible, not worrying about individual stats.

"We laid out a foundation when we first got here," Pagano said. "We talked about a vision. We know what the vision is, [the Super Bowl banner is] hanging in the indoor practice facility. We talked about an environment and culture we wanted to create and then we talked about the process and how you go about your business."

Replacing Mathis for the first four games of the 2014 season won’t be easy. Anybody who says the Colts will be fine without last season's NFL sack leader likely isn’t telling the truth. For as much as Mathis is known for his strip-sacks, his presence inside the locker room has been just as valuable.

"Our team knows what’s at stake, same thing with Reggie [Wayne] being hurt," Grigson said. "If you lose somebody who is so significant to your franchise for a set amount of time, it's going to send everyone reeling for a second until we fall back on those things we've been preaching. Guys aren't going to have to step up in a serviceable way; they have to play at a championship level this year. Everyone does."

Mike Wells

ESPN Indianapolis Colts reporter

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