The 2012 Indianapolis Colts aren’t just one of the best stories in sports.
They’re one of the best stories in any profession or walk of life.
They show what can happen when people band together in support of a common goal—they’re #Chuckstrong.
With their 20-13 win on Sunday in Kansas City, the Colts improved to 10-5 and clinched a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs.
Just one year after finishing 2-14, Indianapolis has qualified for the postseason. It’s a remarkable achievement, especially considering nobody gave the Colts much of a chance to do big things in 2012.
Their leader, head coach Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with leukemia in September and forced to miss the majority of the season as he dealt with the devastating ailment. The man who took Pagano’s place, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, had never been a head coach at the NFL level.
Their on-field general, Andrew Luck, was still a neophyte despite being hailed as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning.
None of these factors prevented the Colts from achieving their goals, and the manner in which they accomplished them is extremely uplifting.
Unless you’re a fan of a squad the Colts play against in the postseason, how could you not root for them?
Longtime Friends Overcoming Adversity
As is the case with most things in life, the journey is far more meaningful than the result. It’s not just that the Colts have managed to win 10 games, but how they’ve done so.
Indianapolis, buoyed by its majestic rookie quarterback, has become the new Kardiac Kids, masters of the comeback victory. Heart-stopping wins against the Packers, Titans, Dolphins and Lions have shown that the Colts aren’t just a flash in the pan, but a legitimate playoff squad.
Critics have pointed to the Colts’ soft schedule, but that’s irrelevant. You play the teams on your schedule and try to defeat them. The Colts have done that, and as a result, they’re a worthy participant in the playoffs.
And for the job that Bruce Arians did in relief of Chuck Pagano to guide the Colts to the postseason, he is your 2012 NFL Coach of the Year. What’s even more special than that fact, though, is the attitude he has displayed in doing so.
This magical season has never been about Arians. He hasn’t tried to assume credit. Instead, he constantly deflected credit to his players and his missing friend, Pagano.
Arians never used Pagano’s office. He didn’t dress where the head coach dressed. Arians' selflessness and desire to see his friend return to the job weren’t manufactured. Everyone needs a friend like Arians.
For Arians, the opportunity to deliver a playoff berth to his ailing friend superseded his personal goals and desires.
My goosebumps got goosebumps while I watched Arians dance a jig after the Colts defeated the Chiefs to clinch the playoff berth. This was the human condition at its absolute finest.
Arians will likely be on the short list for many head coaching opportunities after the Colts season ends, though this season has never been about Arians. He’s made sure of that.
How could you not root for him?
The Mature Rookie
Despite the monumental hype foisted upon Andrew Luck before he took his first NFL snap, he’s managed to exceed all expectations this year. While he hasn’t been perfect (18 interceptions), Luck has been supremely clutch and has shown a maturity well beyond his years.
When longtime Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney joined SiriusXM Blitz last week, he spoke glowingly of his quarterback. He said that the team doesn’t flinch when Luck throws an interception because of his capacity to shrug it off and lead the team to victory.
The on-field success is all well and good, but Luck showed his emotional capacity when he, along with many players and others in the organization, shaved their heads in support of Pagano.
All these things considered, how could you not root for him?
The Bigger Picture
On December 23rd, the Colts qualified for the postseason.
On December 24th, Pagano returned to the Colts facility, his cancer in remission.
Just in time for Christmas, Pagano is back. It’s a script that Hollywood might reject because it’s so implausible and saccharine. But it’s neither of those things—it’s real, and it tugs at the heartstrings.
In his first press conference back as head coach, Pagano thanked his wife. He thanked Colts owner Jim Irsay. He thanked general manager Ryan Grigson. He thanked his friend, Bruce Arians.
He spoke about the incredible outpouring of support he received from his team and from a community that barely knows him.
How could you not root for him?
I don’t overrate sports in the grand scheme of things. The NFL is an escape for me and many others from some of the harsher realities of life. There’s nothing that could ever happen on a football field that could make up for feelings of profound loss.
But sometimes in sports, there are teams, people and stories that lift people to a better place, that foster a greater belief in the wonderful things that human beings are capable of when they come together in support of each other.
As far as sports goes, the 2012 Indianapolis Colts have represented the very best of humanity: empathy, consideration and a ferocious, never-say-die attitude.
I cannot wait to root them on in the postseason. I hope the rest of America joins me.
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the SiriusXM Blitz, hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter.