Emotional Pagano back in Colts' saddle

  • Article by: MICHAEL MAROT
  • Associated Press
  • December 25, 2012 - 3:44 PM

INDIANAPOLIS - Chuck Pagano stepped to the podium Monday, hugged his team owner, thanked his family for its support and wiped a tear from his eye.

Nearly three months to the day after being diagnosed with leukemia, the Colts' first-year coach returned to a team eager to reunite with a boss healthy enough to go back to work.

"My best day of my life was July 1, 1989," Pagano said, referring to his wedding date. "Today was No. 2. 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 [Arians] 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."

The comment turned tears into the laughter everyone expected on such a festive occasion.

For Pagano and the Colts, Monday morning was as precious as anyone could have imagined when Pagano took an indefinite leave to face the biggest opponent of his life, cancer.

In his absence, all the Colts did was win nine of 12 games, make a historic turnaround and clinch a playoff spot all before Sunday's season finale against Houston, which they pegged as the day they hoped to have Pagano back. If all goes well this week, Pagano -- who endured three rounds of chemotherapy to put his cancer in remission -- will be on the sideline for the first time since a Week 3 loss to Jacksonville.

Back then, the Colts were 1-2 and had been written off as one of the league's worst teams. Now, they are ready to show they can be just as successful under Pagano as they were under Arians, Pagano's longtime friend and first assistant coaching hire, who tied the NFL record for wins after a midseason coaching change.

That Pagano's return came less than 24 hours after Indianapolis (10-5) locked up a wild card and the day before Christmas seemed fitting, too.

"I know Chuck is ready for this challenge. In speaking to his doctor multiple times, I know that the time is right for him to grab the reins, get the head coaching cap on and begin the journey," owner Jim Irsay said. "It's been a miraculous story. It really is a book. It's a fairytale. It's a Hollywood script. It's all those things, but it's real."

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