Chuck Pagano Is Tougher Than Cancer

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistOctober 1, 2012

It's the players' turn to root for Pagano.
It's the players' turn to root for Pagano.Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

Passionate, energetic, tough.

Exhausted, worn-out, bruised.

Cancer changes even the best of men, and in recent weeks, it started to affect Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.

His symptoms prompted his wife, Tina, to ask him to see a doctor.

On Monday, Colts owner Jim Irsay announced that Pagano was suffering from acute promyelocytic leukemia and would spend the next several weeks in "a protective environment" in an Indianapolis hospital.

His cancer is considered highly treatable, but survival rates and statistics are poor comfort in comparison to the severity of the fight in which he now finds himself.

Cancer batters the will and devours the body, but like football, it does not build or destroy character. It reveals it.

The qualities that led Pagano to land his dream job after a lifetime of coaching are the same qualities on which he'll rely to carry him through this latest challenge. He dedicated himself to being a leader, a servant, a champion of family, a teacher.  That is the spirit he brings to this fight.

While this is a private battle for Pagano and his family, it extends beyond his wife, daughters and grandchildren. Pagano preached family to his team as well, and it's little wonder, then, that players cried today. Irsay said:

I think both with the players and with the coaches, there was silence, there were some tears and heads that dropped down. With the coaches, Bruce [Arians] had known last night, Chuck called Bruce and he was aware, but the rest of the coaches weren’t and of course the players weren’t either.

So I think it’s shock, it’s a lot to hear... Again, their reactions were just try and absorb it, it’s too much to absorb in three or four minutes, it takes a little time to absorb it and emotionally deal with it, and then move forward...

Through it all, I know that Chuck is the type of person that it’ll make him stronger and he’ll also use it to help others someday as well. So it’s been a very tough, tough day.

It may seem crass to consider how Pagano's absence will affect the team, but anyone who has ever spoken to the coach knows that it would be crass not to think about it.

Pagano has poured his life into his players and coaches, and they have reciprocated with affection and effort.

He is an educator and a vision-setter for a franchise charting a new course, and his absence—be it for six weeks or six months—will be keenly felt.

While Bruce Arians (himself a cancer survivor) will take over in the interim, he knows his role is not to replace Pagano, but to steer his team through the turbulence until Pagano can take the helm again:

Chuck has laid a foundation here that is on rock-solid ground. The players know it. The coaches know it. We will continue his fight...

As a cancer survivor myself, I know that these first few days are really hard on you but as he and I talked yesterday, it’s just a matter of time. I asked Mr. Irsay if we would leave the light on in his office permanently till he comes back and we are going to do that.

This football team will survive. We are going to practice today. We’ll get through today. Today is about Chuck and we’ll get ready for the Packers on Sunday.

We won’t miss a beat because he’s laid that foundation that we will all take and run with right now and make him proud...

We have to move on today, get through today and get ready for the Packers because I know that’s the way Chuck wants it.

The Colts will miss him. They will miss his expertise, especially on defense. They will feel the weight of playing for him, of playing without him.  To say otherwise is to say that he brings nothing to the locker room, and no one believes that.

However, despite the short-term consequences of playing without Pagano, this can end up being a positive for the franchise.

The entire 2012 season for the Colts is about foundation-laying. Pagano has been trying to instill a mindset and a philosophy based on grit, toughness, sacrifice for the team and keeping everyone's eyes on the higher prize.

Now, Pagano has been given the opportunity to be a pure model of all those qualities. It's a horrible gift, an unfair burden, but one that may result in untold gains.

After a lifetime of fighting his way to the top and dreaming of his profession, it will take more than cancer to keep Pagano from making it back to the sidelines.

He's too energetic, too passionate, too tough.

Cancer can't change that. Not for long.

All quotes courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts and were acquired via team press release.