INDIANAPOLIS – Emotions have run high since the day in October when it was announced that he had Leukemia.
They were at a fever pitch when the Colts played and won their first game following the diagnosis. Every Colts breakdown has ended with an emotional cheer of “Chuck”. Tears were shed when the coach talked for the first time since beating Leukemia on Christmas Eve.
So it was no surprise that Chuck Pagano’s return to the field Sunday before the Colts game with the Texans would feature the same outpouring of emotion.
“What a day. What a day,” said Pagano of his return. “Thank you all for like I’ve said before, your support, thoughts, prayers. This meant the world to me.”
The welcome back started for Pagano when he entered the field a little over an hour before the game and just before his team returned to the field for their full pad warm up.
Immediately the coach sought out his family for a series of hugs and kisses near the Colts tunnel before heading out to the field. While out there he interacted with a number of people including many of his players, general manager Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and even Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.
Of course Pagano talked with a number of Colts players, many of whom made it a point to walk over and shake his hand as he stood and watched warm-ups.
During this time, Pagano twice found an opportunity to meet and greet with fans both on the sidelines and stands.’
“The fans, if I didn’t thank them, I’ll thank them again. We’ve got the very best fans in the National Football League,” said Pagano. The outpouring of support and prayers and everything that they’ve shown me and my family and what they did for this team week in and week out, they’re the best.
” I can’t thank them enough.”
Before the opening kickoff Pagano was honored again by the sell out crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium with a video tribute and a standing ovation. The coach turned to the crowd and waved to the fans as he prepared to coach his first game in over three monhts.
“It’s like a dream come true again. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be down there,” said Pagano, who put on the headset for the first time just after the tribute. ”You know you have thoughts coming back, we talked about it’s just like riding a bike. You just jump back on and start pedaling.”
The scoreboard would show that it was that easy for Pagano and the Colts who didn’t lose any momentum in the transition from Bruce Arians. In perhaps their most complete effort of the season the Colts beat the AFC South champion Texans 28-16. When it was over a number of Texans players embraced Pagano along with Colts players as he made his way toward the south tunnel.
Just before going in, Pagano again made his way towards the stands to greet with fans and sign autographs before going to the locker room. There he joined the team in a dance circle, received the game ball from owner Jim Irsay before delivering a long speech to his team.
“So to go along with all those things, this was a pretty special day and we’ve got a pretty special group of men in that locker room and in our organization and we’ve got special people who live in this city and this state,” said Pagano. ”I can’t thank you all enough.”