Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will reportedly return to his head coaching position on Christmas Eve, one day after the team finishes up a Week 16 road trip against the Kansas City Chiefs.
UPDATE: Monday, December 24 at 12:32 p.m. ET by Tyler Conway
After returning to the team on Monday, Pagano addressed the media alongside owner Jim Irsay. Here are a few choice quotes from the touching presser, courtesy of the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell and NFL.com's Jeff Darlington:
Chuck Pagano: the happiest day of my life was July 1, 1989. Got married to Tina. Want to thank you. She's a soldier, a warrior, my soul mate— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 24, 2012
Pagano: you ask yourself Sept. 26, doctor diagnosed exactly what i had. circumstances don't make you they reveal you— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 24, 2012
Pagano: Irsay and his family, not a better man in the entire National Football League. I knew it first time i shook his hand.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 24, 2012
Pagano: To Bruce Arians, I thank God he was available and interested. I thank him again today. He was the first phone call i made— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 24, 2012
Pagano: what a masterful, masterful job you did Bruce. You carried the torch. All you went and did was win 9 ballgames, got us into playoffs— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 24, 2012
Pagano: "I can't imagine another city embracing somebody they hardly know. But I think that's just how we roll in this great community."— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) December 24, 2012
Colts' Jim Irsay: "It's a fairytale. It's a hollywood script. But it's also real. SItting here on Christmas Eve, I couldn't be happier."— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) December 24, 2012
---End of Update---
UPDATE: Monday, December 24 at 11:17 a.m. ET
Chuck Pagano was back at work Monday morning.
Three months after taking an indefinite leave to battle leukemia, the Colts' coach was scheduled to meet with players, coaches and reporters as he retook the reins from interim coach Bruce Arians.
When Pagano arrived at the team headquarters, he drove past an inflatable Colts player to the side of the driveway with a simple message across the chest 'Welcome Back Chuck.' The sign usually reads 'Beat,' plus whichever team the Colts play next.
---End of Update---
Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star originally broke the news on Thursday, December 20:
Nothing’s official, and probably won’t be until sometime Monday morning.
But I’m expecting Chuck Pagano to be back in the building early Monday, back to doing what he loves doing. And that would be coaching the Indianapolis Colts.
Clearly the story of Pagano and his bout with leukemia has been among the most inspiring stories of the NFL season—and in the league's recent history. Pagano has endured three rounds of chemotherapy since his Sept. 26 diagnosis, according to Chappell.
The Chuckstrong campaign has been going strong all year long, with several cheerleaders, players and others in the Indianapolis community shaving their heads to honor their head coach.
Chappell also tweeted specifics on the medical status of Pagano later on Thursday, which indicates great news. He also confirmed his earlier report:
#colts Chuck Pagano was been medically cleared to return to coaching duties, according to his doctor.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 20, 2012
Dr. Larry Cripe on Pagano: 'Medically he's 99 percent recovered from my standpoint. I have placed him on no restrictions.'— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 20, 2012
Expectations are for Chuck Pagano to return to #colts complex Monday and resume normal responsibilities as head coach. Back to normalcy.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) December 20, 2012
Also illuminated in Chappell's piece in the Star was some player reaction to Pagano's prospective return:
“It will be great,’’ quarterback Andrew Luck said. “I’m sure it will be emotional for a lot of people. But when it comes, and hopefully soon, it’ll be very nice to sort of have our head coach back.’’
“It’s going to be crazy,’’ added safety Antoine Bethea. “It’s going to be a great moment, just having him back on an everyday basis with the team, knowing that’s what he really wants, back with us coaching and back on the sideline.
There has been speculation and a target date of Pagano returning for the team's final home game against the AFC South champion Houston Texans.
But considering the severity of his situation, it was difficult to see that happening for Pagano, which makes this story all the more inspiring.
That's not even to mention what has happened on the field. In Pagano's absence, the Colts—ranked at the bottom of nearly every preseason power ranking—have shocked the football world by going 9-5 with a playoff spot well within reach in the last two weeks of the 2012 season.
Interim head coach Bruce Arians has kept the team afloat in impressive fashion after taking over for Pagano while also calling the plays, and all the Colts have rallied around their head coach as he has fought for his life.
Everyone will be pleased to see Pagano return to the team facility, and everyone—even non-football fans—can appreciate this incredible story.