Fighting back tears at times and sniffling throughout, Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano was part of a half-hour news conference Monday that was part of his first day back on the job after fighting leukemia into remission.
Pagano thanked everyone he could remember: his wife and family; Colts owner Jim Irsay, GM Ryan Grigson and interim coach Bruce Arians; his players, who have earned a berth in the playoffs; doctors, nurses, support staff and the people who cleaned his room at the Simon Cancer Center; the media who respected his privacy; the well-wishers who contacted him, including a 9-year-old boy who advised him in a letter that strawberry Popsicles were a good way to avoid mouth sores; the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana and the people around the country who embraced someone they hardly knew, many of them wearing shirts or wristbands declaring themselves "Chuckstrong."
“My job as a head football coach is just beginning all over again. ... That whole Chuckstrong, the way I look at it is my job has just begun with that," he said. "We talk about serving. My job now is to give back everything I can possibly give back to everybody out there that’s fighting some type of illness, some type of disease, some type of cancer.
“That’s my goal, is to become 100 percent cancer free, hoist that [Lombardi] trophy, dance at two [daughters'] weddings and give back as much as I can give back. Not only in this community but to everybody I can affect and help across this great country.”
He praised the “masterful, masterful” job Arians, his offensive coordinator, did in leading the team to a 9-3 record during his absence and pledged to try to not get in the way of the good things the Colts have going on.
“Tough act to follow, tough act to follow, the best in the history of the NFL, and that’s what I’ve got to come back to,” Pagano said. “I’ve got my hands full. I told him today, I thanked all the staff and everybody on the team, I’ll try my best not to get in the way and do the best I can to get back into this. It’s really great to be back.”
He said his weight is back, his energy is back and he will follow the orders of his doctor, Larry Cripe, to be prudent and smart with how he attacks his return.
His office light has been kept on in his absence -- a gesture Arians put in place the day he took over. That light was finally turned off today when he stepped out for meetings and the news conference, and Pagano joked about saving some energy and light bulbs.
Pagano’s time and energy will quickly turn to preparations for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans. We’ll have to wait until Wednesday, it seems, to get his thoughts on how the team will approach a game that can’t impact the Colts’ playoff standing. They are locked in as the No. 5 seed while the Texans need a win to grab the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
“It’s been a miraculous story,” Irsay said. “It really is a book. It’s a fairy tale. It’s a Hollywood script. It’s all of those things, but it’s real.”
I'll be at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. I can't imagine there's ever been a game in which the coach leading his team onto the field has ever been quite such a big event.