Throwback Thursday: Chuck Pagano Returns To Team


In January of 2012 after a disastrous two-win season, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was looking to clean house, and he did just that, cutting numerous staff and veteran players whom had been with the team for years and had been iconic members of the Colts for the majority of their careers.

One of the major moves in the “rebuild” process was Irsay’s firing of then-head coach Jim Caldwell, where Irsay would add former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as Caldwell’s replacement.

The Colts appeared to be in turmoil by the third week of the regular season after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home, starting off the season with a 1-2 record. But things took a turn for the worse during the team’s Bye Week.

The entire Colts organization and league would be rocked with the devastating news that Pagano had been diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia, also know as acute promyelocytic leukemia. Pagano took a leave of absence from the team for treatment while offensive coordinator Bruce Arians would take over for interim head coach for the time being.

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Pagano’s fight with cancer would spark a movement known as “ChuckStrong” that would be embraced and supported by players and fans from all over the NFL. The fear of failure from his team while he was absent was not something Pagano had to worry about, as Arians led the Colts to a 9-3 record during the twelve-week span that Pagano was absent.

Then, on the morning of December 24, Pagano announced that he would return to coach the team the following week against the Houston Texans for the team’s regular season finale.

Pagano was greeted with a standing ovation prior to the start of the game, waving to the crowd while fighting back tears in the emotional moment. The Colts had already secured a playoff spot, but Pagano refused to let off on the gas in his first game in three months.

The team was playing inspired football for Pagano against a Texans team that had defeated them two weeks prior to this contest. But the Colts had shown fans that they are a difficult team to beat when fueled by inspiration and facing adversity. They would end up defeating the Texans 28-16 in proper fashion.

The game, as well as the season, could have been a plot for a movie – every person around the league having the Colts down for the count from the start, then to have their first-year head coach sidelined for the majority of the season battling serious illness, to overcome the challenges in a way that seemed out of reality.

The Colts could have just rolled over and accepted defeat but instead chose to fight for their coach and season, going 11-5 and being a wild-card team when no one gave them a chance before the regular season’s start.

When people think of the Colt’s 2012 season, one thing comes to mind: “ChuckStrong.” Pagano’s return in the final week of the season was the cherry on-top to cap off a very memorable year to be a proud fan of the Colts.