Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, bedridden as he battles leukemia, watched with admiration his team — competing under the slogan “ChuckStrong” — came back from 18 points down to defeat the Green Bay Packers, prompting Pagano to send an e-mail to the local newspaper.
“I am the luckiest man in the world,” Pagano wrote to the Indianapolis Star. “I said it when I got this opportunity several months ago and I am repeating it now. The 12th man came through big time along with the TEAM THAT REFUSED TO LOSE.”
Team owner Jim Irsay was emotional, as well, when he spoke inside a silent locker room after the game before dashing off to the hospital where Pagano is undergoing treatment. He delivered the game ball to Pagano, who celebrated his 52nd birthday Tuesday.
“We know what kind of man we have down the street, fighting, fighting for his life, and winning the fight,” Irsay said. “You guys doing this today, Bruce coming in, all you guys pulling together, Reggie being so close to Chuck going back for so long. Everyone in here knows how much that this means, and this ball is going right down the street.”
Team officials honored Pagano by hanging signs that read #Chuckstrong behind each goal post and wore lapel pins with orange ribbons on a white background. Wayne, who has known Pagano since the late 1990s, when they were at the University of Miami, wore orange gloves, the color representing the fight against leukemia.
The Colts shocked the Packers on Sunday, thanks to huge games by quarterback Andrew Luck and receiver Reggie Wayne. The rookie quarterback and veteran receiver connected at the most critical moments, including a 4-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left to complete the Colts’ second-half rally and stun Green Bay 30-27 on perhaps the most emotional day in Lucas Oil Stadium history.
Interim coach Bruce Arians said in a Monday interview with ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” that he talked to Pagano after the game, saying that he knows what the win “meant to him.”
He said he sent a text to Pagano before the game: “Dude, don’t think you’re not here. Your presence is on every player’s face, every coach’s face. You’re here, you’re here.”