This was a rebuilding year for the once-great Indianapolis Colts. After releasing arguably the most talented quarterback in NFL history, albeit on amicable terms, and firing head coach Jim Caldwell, the Colts started the 2012 NFL season under a great deal of scrutiny. By drafting former Stanford standout Andrew Luck (after a season where Colts fans held the mantra “Suck for Luck”), expectations for Luck were quite high. How would a rookie quarterback handle comparisons to of one of the NFL’s legends and, and awkwardly enough, one of his longtime family friends? Peyton Manning is regarded as an all-time great as well as gentleman around the league, but more importantly in Indianapolis. Luck would inevitably feel pressure from an ever-judgmental sports media and pouncing fans. But the pressure that he would feel in Indianapolis was unprecedented. Despite the docile nature of Indianapolis fans (viewed as some of the most polite in the league), there were fears and threats of riots and fans abandoning the team after refusing to resign Peyton. What would happen? Could Luck possibly live up to unprecedented exceptions? Would die-hard Colt fans stick by their team? The 2012 season was public relations nightmare in the making.
In early October, the Colts faced yet another challenge. Head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Even in the victory focused NFL, some things are bigger than football. The Colts immediately rallied around their head coach. Following the first game of Pagano’s absence, long-time Colts’ owner Jim Irsay brought the game ball to his hospital room. An uproar of support ensued from Indianapolis. The team, fans, community, and league rallied around Pagano with a new cry: “Chuckstrong”. Every practice, every game, and every play was dedicated to supporting their fighting coach. Dwight Freeney, the 10-year Colts defensive veteran said of Chuck’s battle, “You can’t measure how much that lifts a team.” Inspiration was at an all time high. And to everyone’s surprise, this inspiration has lifted the Colts. In 8 games thus far this season, the team has already more than doubled their 2012 effort with 5 wins, including an emphatic week 8 win against the Miami Dolphins where Andrew Luck threw for a rookie record of 433 yards. The Colts are on the road to the playoffs and, strangely enough, a matchup against their beloved Peyton Manning, now the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. With Peyton having arguably his best year yet, on track to win his record-improving 5th NFL MVP award, many would have expected outcry from Indianapolis. Why let the legend leave? Clearly he can still perform at a high level. But in Colt country, no such outcry exists. Colt fans are proud, both of their teams victories, Luck’s triumphs (if he continues at this pace he will shatter virtually every rookie quarterback record), and most importantly of the universal support for their head coach. Some would say it’s the culture of an organization and its fans that might have created this atmosphere naturally, but I tip my hat to the Colt’s PR department, because football fans are not easy to please.
Chuck Pagano’s emotional speech to team: