Unable to attend any games previously, Pagano made his way back into the locker room and delivered an uplifting address of hope to his supportive team.
The reaction to the speech in the sports community couldn’t have been more telling. People, not just Pagano’s team and league analysts, have gotten behind the coach in his battle against cancer. It’s gone far and above being limited to the confines of ESPN and NFL Network.
There’s something inherently binding in Pagano’s struggle that transcends sports altogether and brings us all together at the core of our humanity. It’s the desire to live life to its fullest and defeat the challenges that are thrown in our way. Not alone, but together.
It’s in each other that we find the inspiration and good in the world.
This situation hasn’t fallen lightly on the players in the Colts’ locker room. Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney described the speech and its effect best from a player standpoint.
"You can't measure how much that lifts a team," Freeney said, according to Jarret Bell of USA Today. "To see the look on his face, especially before the game and definitely after the game, was priceless. It's bigger than football."
While not at the core of its meaning, Pagano’s struggle has truly inspired and brought out the best in his team. The players are practicing harder, studying harder and just flat-out going harder on Sundays in order to show their support for their coach.
It’s not the moral of this story, but it is something that has come out of it as a result.
No one picked the Colts to do anything this season. They finished 2-14 last season and brought in a new head coach and rookie quarterback during the offseason.
They’re 5-3 and in the heat of the AFC playoff race as we speak.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck voiced his excitement to see Pagano last Sunday after the team’s win over the Dolphins.
“Coach Pagano’s a inspiration,” Luck said, according to Cindy Boren of the Washington Post. “When I found out this morning he’d be here, I was giddy. Excited. Jacked to see him in the flesh. We all were. I love him. We all do.”
Love is accurate for the emotion that Pagano has drawn from his players.
This week, a number of Colts players visualized their support for their coach by shedding ties with their full heads of hair in an act of solidarity with their ailing coach.
The moral of all of this isn’t just about sports or winning football games. It’s about coming together and living life, about beating the challenges that life puts in front of you, no matter how dire the odds or how hard the storm rains down upon you.
To a coin a popular phrase in Indianapolis, it’s about being "Chuckstrong."
Chuck on three.