Chuckstrong is heading hot into the playoffs.
For the first time in months, Chuck Pagano wasn't a man battling leukemia—he was an NFL head coach.
The Indianapolis Colts' first-year coach has experienced the highest of highs in 2012—being named the head coach on Jan. 25—and the lowest of lows when he was diagnosed with leukemia just after the season began.
Three months later, he returned to the sidelines and coached his team to a convincing 28-16 win over the No. 1-seeded Houston Texans. And with the Colts finishing the year at 11-5 and earning the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, Chuckstrong is one force you don't want to reckon with.
Before he was hired by the Colts almost a year ago, Pagano was one of the top defensive coaches in the NFL, serving as the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. Under Pagano's supervision, the Ravens finished the year as the third-ranked scoring defense and were a Billy Cundiff field goal away from going to the Super Bowl.
The Colts managed to snag Pagano away from the Ravens, and hopes were high for a team in desperate need of a strong, disciplined mind after enduring through a dismal 2-14 year under passive head coach Jim Caldwell.
With No. 1 pick Andrew Luck at the helm, hopes were high for Pagano and the Colts.
Then his world came to a crashing halt.
Diagnosed with leukemia, Pagano began treatment on Sept. 26 and would miss most of the Colts' regular season. But while he wasn't on the sidelines, he was in the hearts of players, coaches, fans and people around the world.
The Chuckstrong motto came to life and carried the Colts community throughout their season. Cheerleaders shaved their heads in honor of Pagano, and kids fighting their own battles with cancer and other ailments sought to give hope to the Colts coach.
On Sunday, Pagano's journey came full circle.
After weeks of anticipation, he slid on a headset and found himself in a new battle—an NFL game.
For a guy who just beat leukemia, the Texans were like a walk in the park.
While the credit has to fall on the players—particularly Luck and a rejuvenated Reggie Wayne—having Pagano back on the sidelines and out of a hospital bed had to have made a difference for a team that should make a difference in the playoffs.
Winners of five of their last six games, the Colts are riding into the playoffs on the back of Chuckstrong and the arm of Andrew Luck. The rookie quarterback has injected new life into the worst team in football last year, turning the Colts from a laughingstock into a playoff team.
Taking down the Texans just two weeks after losing to them was only another step in what's been a heartwarming story for an organization that's totally remade itself in the post-Peyton Manning era.
Whether the Colts win the Super Bowl, win a playoff game or are bounced in the first round, it's clear this team has a chance to be something special not only this year, but for years to come.
In a game that values toughness, breeds competition and sparks greatness, the Colts and Chuck Pagano are riding Chuckstrong into the new year.
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