INDIANAPOLIS -- When Colts head coach Chuck Pagano addressed the media on Friday, one thing was immediately clear: he's in good spirits. He smiled and laughed often, addressing questions about the cancer that threatened his life during the 2012 season. He talked about how proud he was of his team as well as how grateful he was, and still is, for the help he received while he was focused on a different kind of fight. It was a refreshing 15 minutes that reminded everyone in attendance that there are some things that are a little more important.
Pagano began the press conference, like most other coaches, with an opening statement. His, though, was about his hair growing back.
"Like Ryan Grigson said, the hair's coming back in," Pagano said. "It's a little gnarly. I haven't found a gel yet that will quite calm it down. We're still looking for one. My wife's trying to help me out. I feel great and very fortunate to be back here and doing this combine deal."
Pagano talked some football after that, stating that the surprising success of the 2012 Colts will set the standard for the team in 2013 and beyond and that, while he knows there are several areas the team needs to address, they'll be looking at every player cycling through the Combine. It wasn't long, though, before the conversation switched back to Pagano's fight against leukemia that lasted much of the 2012 season.
Laughing about how ironic it was that one of the restrictions placed on him by the doctors was limited media obligations, Pagano said that he feels good now, though he doesn't know if he will ever feel the same.
"I don't know if that will ever be the same," Pagano said. "I feel pretty normal now, as far as going through the normal stuff a football coach goes through on a day-in, day-out basis. Whether it will ever be exactly the same, I don't think it will ever be that way. I feel good. I feel like most of that is behind me. I feel good where I'm at right now."
Perhaps Pagano drew inspiration from his team in 2012. While he wasn't on the sidelines coaching the team, the Colts, led by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, were able to make it into the playoffs with an 11-5 record. Players and even cheerleaders shaved their heads in support of their head coach while signs bearing the slogan "Chuck-Strong" littered the stadium.
When asked what impressed him the most about the 2012 Colts, he said it was their resiliency.
"Just how resilient they were, how fast they came together," Pagano said. "From day one, they bought into what our plan and vision was. Just their resiliency. You look at the first game I was away, they cam back from a 21-3 deficit and upset Green Bay here at home. Then, you have a devastating loss and they come back and won two or three ballgames. They never lost two games in a row."
Pagano said they were fun to watch from afar despite the fact that he couldn't be with them. He also discussed how difficult it was to lose the man who led his team to the playoffs in his absence, Bruce Arians.
"It's hard because we have a strong relationship," he said. "He's a great friend and confidant. It's tough. You're expecting him to walk into your suite at night and do interviews with you. He's going to walk down to another suite and handle his own interviews. We're really excited for Bruce, Kris and his entire family for the opportunity he has in front of him."
Pagano seemed happy, but more importantly, he seemed healthy. He said that he still has a process to go through when it comes to the medication he'll be on for a couple of years and the doctors appointments he'll have to sit through, but he didn't seem worried or distracted. When he mixed up Vontae Davis' and Vonta Leach's names, he laughed and said, "blame it on the chemo."
Like any other cancer survivor, Pagano will be scarred and carry the effects of his treatment for a very long time. However, his willingness and capability to move past it, find humor in it and, most importantly, beat it, will serve as a source of inspiration for those who will walk down the same road in the future.
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