This day was for Chuck Pagano.
And you can bet that, from his Indianapolis hospital room, Chuck Pagano was smiling.
The Colts coach hasn’t had much reason to grin this past week after publicly revealing that he has been diagnosed with leukemia.
But that didn’t stop Pagano from issuing a letter to Colts players, employees and fans, thanking all the well-wishers for their support and urging his team to concentrate on running its record to .500.
Message received, coach.
And when the final gun finally sounded on an improbable victory sealed by a missed 51-yard field goal attempt by Packers kicker Mason Crosby, Irsay summed up the feelings of his entire team.
“We know what kind of man we have just down the street in the hospital, fighting for his life, winning the fight ... We know what this means for him,” Irsay told his team.
Pagano might not have been in the building in person, but he certainly was in the house in spirit. To that end, all of the Colts players wore T-shirts under their jerseys that had the words “CHUCKSTRONG” printed on the front.
But Pagano’s karma had little influence in the opening half, a 30-minute span in which Aaron Rodgers and his team built up a 21-3 lead.
Then came a memorable second half comeback authored by a number of key ingredients.
There was the swarming Indy defence that limited Rodgers to just a pair of second half field goals, an outstanding performance that often had the high-octane Packers offence out of rhythm.
There was the ageless Reggie Wayne, who opted to re-sign with the Colts even after the departure of Peyton Manning, making 13 grabs for 212 yards and a touchdown en route to this improbable victory.
And there was first overall pick Andrew Luck, who completed 31-of-55 passes for 362 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his quest to fill the huge shoes of the great Manning.
“I’m sure we were all lying to everybody the whole week, trying to downplay (the Pagano situation),” Luck, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in three of his four NFL starts, told reporters in Indy.
“I think we all went out there wanting to do it for Chuck more than anything else. To see all the emotions on Mr. Irsay’s face, everyone in there, I think it’s one of the greatest athletic moments I’ve ever been a part of.”
Just seven days earlier, about 300 km. northwest of Indy at the Medinah Country Club in the Chicago suburbs, the European Ryder Cup team, down 10-6 to the Americans, were told by captain Jose Maria Olazabal to “believe.” Dedicating their efforts to the late Seve Ballesteros, the Europeans stunned the golf world by roaring back to retain the Cup 141/2 to 131/2.
A week later, the Colts wrote their own miraculous comeback, all the while showing that they “believe” too.
They “believe” in Luck. They “believe” in Wayne. And, with their ill coach supporting them, they “believe” in Chuck Pagano.
After watching their performance on Sunday, it’s hard for the rest of us not to believe.
Packers DL B.J. Raji, RB Cedric Benson and TE Jermichael Finley all left the game with injuries and did not return. Green Bay already was playing without starting wideout Greg Jennings, who has been battling a groin ailment.
Motivated by a letter sent to the team’s players and employees by leukemia-saddled coach Chuck Pagano, the Indianapolis Colts upset the Green Bay Packers 30-27 on Sunday. Here is the transcript of Pagano’s written message:
On behalf of the Pagano Family, we want to say thank you for all the love and support that you have shown. We can never repay you, but just know that we Love you all and we will always have your backs. We could not get through this without all of you!
All the cards, notes, texts, emails have all been read and digested. It’s overwhelming. But right on time.
We will all be better in the long run. Thanks to all the survivors and your personal stories. They are truly inspiring. I know I will beat this, and hearing all the special success stories make the days much better!
You know I am going crazy in here, but nobody understands process better than all of us Colts.
My condition will not determine my position. I understand the condition but choose to focus on my position. That is to stay positive and SERVE.
WE WILL, WE CAN, WE MUST. WE HAVE NO CHOICE. BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. WE WILL OVERCOME.
IT’S ALL IN THE PROPER STATE OF MIND.
There is no better owner in the NFL, period! He has built an organization based on Faith, Family and Football. Don’t ever mistake the ORDER.
We all have a job to do. We know and understand that. That’s why we signed up for it. We knew there were going to be tough times. This is not for everybody, but I know deep in my heart we are all here because we’re supposed to be.
Focus on being 500 by 4:30pm on Sunday. Nothing else. LASER SHARPE FOCUS. That has to be our mind set.
60 minutes, all you got, one play at a time!