INDIANAPOLIS — The players on the Indianapolis Colts roster thought that they had gotten most of their emotions out of their system early last week when head coach Chuck Pagano returned from a near season-long leave of absence.
They were wrong.
Pagano has been battling a form of leukemia for the past 12 weeks. He was forced to step away from his job and responsibilities with the team as he spent three grueling sessions of chemotherapy. Instead of preparing for games each week, Pagano was literally fighting a bigger battle for his life.
Even though he went back to work last Monday and spent the last seven days getting back into the flow of being a coach again, it wasn't until he stepped back on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday that the reality of what he had been though finally touched him.
With an announced crowd of 66,957 on hand to officially welcome Pagano back to the sidelines, his players and his assistant coaches knew that they were watching and participating in something very, very special.
“It was like a rock star coming out of the tunnel with all of the cameras flashing when he walked out [for pre-game warmups]. I think that was sort of a lift that he gave us. It was energy. Just to have his physical presence and seeing him on sideline was great," rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said after the Colts' 28-16 upset victory over AFC South champion Houston.
"It's uplifting as someone who knows this guy and has a relationship with him. It was great to see him out there. From a football aspect, it’s nice to have his presence because he knows a lot about the game, situational football, and [we're] glad we could go out and get a win for him.”