Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano addressed the media Monday, on his first day back on the job.
A full transcript of his speech follows:
“The happiest day of my life was July 1, 1989. That’s when I got married to my wife Tina. I want to thank you (to Tina). She’s a soldier, a warrior, my soul mate. And my family, my mom and dad, my daughters. You can’t get through something like this without somebody as strong and as loving as your family. I thank you Tina. The guys who came and saw me up at (IU Simon Cancer Center) know the bed she slept on every night. She never left my side except to go home and do some laundry every morning that we were there. We were there for 25 days. You got me through and I thank you. Circumstances don’t make you. I talked about it a long time ago. They don’t make you, they reveal you. There are things that go on in the National Football League, around our communities, in our neighborhoods, around the world, around the country and around our city. You just shake your head at and you ask and say ‘Why?’ We lost a couple of ballplayers in recent weeks and months. You just shake your heads. (Hurricane Sandy) hits the East Coast and you wonder why. And then you ask yourself, September 26, when I sat in front of the doctor and he diagnosed me and told me exactly what I had.
“For a second there, you might sit back and say ‘Why?’ Again, circumstances don’t make you, they reveal you. And what was revealed to me along with the love and support of my wife and family was that my owner, Jim Irsay and his family, there is not a better man in the entire National Football League. I knew it the first time I shook his hand when I came here to interview for this job. The love and support that he and his family gave me, I’m forever in debt. Thank you Jim to you and your entire family. You were with me every step of the way. ‘What can I do for you coach? What do you need? What does your family need?’ There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t feel his presence.
“To my general manager, Ryan Grigson, and his wife, Cynthia. Every step of the way, support and prayers with his entire family from the region, getting cards and letters. Thank you Ryan and your family for your support and love. It means the world to me.
“To Bruce (Arians), I told you guys the first phone call, and I mentioned it to the team this morning, the first phone call I made after I got this job was to Bruce and to see if he would be interested and I thank God that he was available and interested. I thank him again today. He was the first phone call I made on that Sunday after I was admitted into the hospital with this. We kind of had to wait, but he was the first guy I called and told him about my circumstances. I asked him if he would lead this team and this ball club and this organization and take over the reins. What a masterful, masterful job you did Bruce.
“You carried the torch and all you went out and did was win nine ballgames. You got us our 10th win yesterday and you got us into the playoffs. You did it with dignity and you did it with class. You’re everything that I always knew you were and more. And to the entire coaching staff, all the work that you’ve done and you put in, I can’t thank you enough. I’ll never be able to repay each and every one of you for the jobs that you have done.
“And to our players, for their effort and work they put in. I told them this morning that the sky is the limit for this group. There is just no quit and that’s because of your leadership and I thank you Bruce and the entire staff. To this organization, everybody standing here today, I thank you, all the texts, letters, cards and notes. We got together a long time ago in here, didn’t we last spring? We had a powwow in here. And we said that it was going to take everybody in this room to build this monster. You guys have done your part. Man, have you done your part. I’d name you all but you know what I’ve been through so don’t hold me accountable to that. I thank you, my family thanks you for everything that you have done over the course of the last three months and some. You’re just as important, as I told you on that day to our success and the team’s success and the organization’s success. And I thank you for your hard work.
“To my doctor, Dr. Larry Cripe and all the nurses, staff, cooks, people who cleaned my room, I can’t thank them enough. I knew the minute I walked into Simon with my wife, on that Wednesday afternoon, September 26, and Dr. Larry Cripe looked me in the eyes and gave me the facts, he shot straight, I knew I had the very best in the land. And I thank Dr. Cripe and like I said, all of the nurses, all of the staff, everybody at IU Health and everybody at Simon. They were unbelievable. You talk about serving. There are no finer servants around than those people. They walk in there and you’re having one of those days, they just come in with a smile, they are upbeat and their attitude is unbelievable. And they get you through it as painless as possible. I love all of those people and I can’t thank them enough.
“To the media, I want to thank you for respecting me and my family and giving us the space and time we needed to get through this. I want to thank you for your texts and emails and phone messages. You guys are unbelievable, you’re outstanding and you’ve been great to work with. I’m glad I’m back and I get to work with you some more. I know Bruce did an outstanding job and you love Bruce to death. Again, I want to thank you and my family wants to thank you for giving us, like I said, the space and time that we needed.
“To the fans, people of this great city, this great state and all over the country, thank you. The prayers, the love, the support, the outpouring, I can’t imagine being anywhere else and having a city and a community embrace somebody they hardly know. I just think that’s how we roll in this great state, this great city and this great community. And around the country, I can’t tell you how thankful my family and I are to everybody who reached out. It’s unbelievable and we are so blessed.
“And in closing before I answer any questions that you might have, and please forgive me if I have forgotten or left somebody out. I didn’t want to do that. That was the thing that scared me the most about coming in today. I didn’t want to do that. If I have, I want to thank everybody again. I know this and I knew this the day that Mr. Irsay offered me this job and Ryan and I was fortunate enough and blessed enough to have this opportunity and came to Indiana. I knew it was a great place and an outstanding organization. If you are going to have to go through something like we went through, there is no place that I’d rather be than right here, as a Colt, living in this great state of Indiana, going through this with everybody in this room and everybody that supported us throughout this great state, city and community.
“I’ll forever be in debt to each and every one of you. There is no better place. I told you my best day of my life was July 1, 1989. Today was number two. Getting to pull up, drive in, get out of my car, the key fob still worked. I was beginning to question whether it would or not. When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some ‘you know what’ and to do great. Damn Bruce, you had to go and win nine games? Tough act to follow. Tough act to follow. Best in the history of the NFL. That’s what I have to come back to. I’ve got my hands full. I told him today after I thanked the staff and the team that I just try not to get in the way and do the very best I can to get back into this. It’s really great to be back. Like a kid in a candy store, I get to come and be around the guys again. Do what I love to do and what I’ve done my whole life. Obviously we don’t ever want to take anything for granted. I want you to know, our entire country to know and everybody in the NFL that was so kind, generous, loving and supportive what a privilege it is to coach in the National Football League. It is the greatest sport in the world and I feel very honored.”
A brief question and answer session following Pagano’s speech. The transcript is as follows:
How soon will your light be turned off?
“Well I think as soon as they tell me it’s time to go home and get some rest, I don’t know. It was great because when I walked in here a couple times, one of the greatest gestures I’ve ever heard of and I thank you for that too, Bruce (Arians). Somebody had sent in some plastic clips so even if somebody tried to shut the lights off, they couldn’t, so those were off this morning. So we’ll go ahead and save some energy and some light bulbs and things like that and shut them down.”
Are you just going to pick up and go or do you have to pace yourself?
“We had a team meeting today at 10. I was blessed to everybody show up on a victory Monday, God bless them. So I set the alarm and woke up in time to make it here in time and yeah, I’m ready to go. As Dr. Cripe told me, he said be prudent and be smart with how you attack this thing. I will tell you that the battle, cancer is something that is unfortunately everywhere and it’s probably touched many, many of our lives in here. Not only mine but we’ve probably all had some association with it. I’ve still got a strict regimen to stick to and there’s a plan for the next couple years and then a few years after that. Again these guys, this thing is rolling pretty good so again if I just don’t get in the way. I feel great, my weight is back, my energy is back and again, it’s just a blessing to be back here.”
You’ll leave here to go to meetings and have meetings at 3:00, 5:00?
“If I can get away from the people in this audience, I could get back to. I hope everybody understands that our coaches’ time and energy has got to turn obviously towards Houston as soon as we break here and mine has to do the same thing. Again, you guys were respectful of my time and giving me and my family space during this time and I want to give you the time that you need and be respectful to you guys, but our time and energy has got to go into moving forward to get onto getting ready for the game Sunday against Houston.”
How much were you bolstered by what your team did over the last three months and how was it walking into that meeting today?
“It was incredible. Watching them, like I said, this team has no quit. We’ve talked from day one everybody thought we were crazy about what we could do and what we set our minds to do and I thank those guys. I just watched them, I sat back for the last 12 ballgames, three months, it’s been 90-something days I guess. Every week, I told them when I got diagnosed and Larry Cripe looked me in the eye and said here’s what you have and here’s the steps you have to take the beat this, there was never a doubt in my mind that I’d be standing up here at some point addressing you and the team again. I told the team that there was never a doubt in my mind that they would be 10-5 right now. And then the playoffs, that’s what we set out to do a long, long time ago, all the way back in the spring from the first meeting. We said it was next man up and everybody has done that. So watching them week in and week out, I’m going to tell you from either a hospital bed or the bed at home in my living room, it’s not easy. Sitting there as, what I basically became, a fan, you feel helpless at times. But watching these guys work and coach and play, they inspired me. Again they have no quit and they just found ways to get it done and to win.”
You became for this community for so many people a face, a hope and a fight against cancer and leukemia. What would you say to people who are getting ready to go through that same journey themselves and don’t have the same hope?
“I would say number one, obviously having the support of your family and your loved ones, but your attitude, the way you attack this thing, it all seems so gloom and doom, if you will. You know when they hit you in the head with it, right square between the eyes with, ‘Hey you’ve got this disease, you’ve got leukemia, you’ve got lymphoma’. All I can say to those people is, and there’s such a great support group out there, is you’ve got to battle every day. There’s going to be some good days and there’s going to be some bad days, but you’ve got to have faith and you’ve got to have trust. You’ve got to ask Him every day to be healed and that’s what I did. I asked every day. Obviously they’re going to have to go through some things, radiation, chemotherapy, whatever it may be, the transfusions, you name it, I could go on and on and on. It’s just, keep the right frame of mind, you stay positive, and just know you can win. If you battle, you have that mindset, and then you can overcome. I can tell you that I got so many stories, and so many letters. The family that comes together when this happens to somebody and the stories that you hear, I got a letter from a nine-year old that was diagnosed when he was sick. He’s now in remission and cancer-free. He was smart enough to tell me, ‘Coach, you can beat this. But your attitude has got to be really good. You’ve got to be really kind to your nurses, they mean well. I know you’re not going to feel good but be very nice to them. Make sure you chew on ice, Coach, when you’re taking your chemo, it will help you so you don’t get the sores in your mouth. I prefer strawberry popsicles, you might want to try those Coach, that’s what I did.’ So to everybody out there, just the same things, it’s your faith and it’s your belief and it’s your will. Just like our players, we talk about the will to win and the will to beat your man. You’re just lining up against something else and with that will, you can overcome anything.”
Do you think this journey has changed you or will change you in a tangible way?
“Again, I always looked at the opportunities that I’ve been given and the many blessings that I have in my life and what I’ll try to pass on. What I tried to pass on to the players again today was I’ll go back and just never take one day for granted. It is a privilege to be standing here today. It is a blessing. I’ll go about my business as a football coach and those type of things in the same manner, but what I asked the guys to do was to every day that they walk in this door, the same way our coaches do and the same way I’m going to do, is I’m going to work as hard as I can and take advantage of this great opportunity that was given to all of us and live every day to its fullest.”
CHUCKSTRONG became so prevalent in the community. What does that phrase mean to you and what do you think when you see a bracelet or a banner that says CHUCKSTRONG?
“It’s really overwhelming. The whole thing was overwhelming and very humbling. I can’t thank this organization and everybody that came up with that. Winning this battle, fighting this battle, and winning this battle, like I said in the locker room during the season, this team has chosen to live in vision and not circumstances. My job as the head football coach is just beginning all over again. We talked about some things that I wanted to do down the road both personally in my life and professionally with this organization and hoisting that Lombardi trophy someday. But that whole CHUCKSTRONG, the way I look at it is my job has just begun with that. Besides my job here, now we talk about serving, my job now is to give back everything that 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, to become 100 percent cancer-free, hoist that trophy, dance at two weddings, and give back as much as I can give back not only to this community but to everybody that I can effect and help across this great country. Again, I want to thank you all from myself and my family, from the bottom of my heart, for all the prayers, all the love, all the support, all the cards, all the letters, all the texts, all the e-mails. There’s no way, there’s no way you could ever get through something like this alone. Again to my wife and my family and everybody in here, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Like I said earlier, if you’re going to have to go through something, I know exactly why I’m here now. This is the place you’d want to be, starting with our owner and on down. These are the finest people I’ve ever been around in my entire life and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”