Pagano, Colts getting back to business as usual

Chuck Pagano beat the traffic and a blizzard into work Wednesday

morning – all in an effort to beat the Texans.

After spending the last three months fighting leukemia, the

inspirational Colts coach arrived early at the team complex. He met

briefly with his players to give them a succinct message about this

week’s game plan, then stepped onto the practice field for the

first time since Sept. 26.

It seemed nothing had changed.

”From Day 1, we set goals for ourselves, and after watching

what this team has done over the course of the season, the last 12

weeks, it’s just not in our DNA,” Pagano said when asked about

resting his starters Sunday against Houston. ”Our families deserve

it, our fans deserve to see our best game regardless of the

circumstances. They’re going to roll the ball out there and our job

is to win a ballgame and that’s what we’re going to do.”

While Pagano wanted to take a business-as-usual approach into

his first regular workday, it certainly wasn’t easy amid all the

outside stuff.

Up to a foot of wind-whipped snow had fallen in parts of

Indianapolis, creating hazardous driving conditions. Pagano said he

arrived at the team complex so early, he had no trouble driving.

And though he considered moving up the scheduled afternoon practice

so players could return home, Pagano decided against it because

forecasters were hopeful the road conditions would improve as the

snow tapered off late in the afternoon.

The snowiest day of the year was no deterrent for Pagano, who

returned to the team complex Monday, met briefly with players who

gave him a standing ovation, and spent about 30 minutes answering

questions from reporters. On Wednesday, he strolled onto the team’s

indoor practice field for the first time in three months, presided

over the full-scale practice in the afternoon and savored every

precious moment.

”Any time you just get removed from where you’re supposed to be

on a daily basis – I’ve been doing this for the last 28 years of my

life and then all of a sudden to be taken away from it, and then to

be blessed to get back before the end of the season – it’s a great

feeling,” he said. ”It’s just good to be back around the players

and practice and coaching again.”

Playing to win what would normally be a meaningless game is a

stark contrast from previous Colts playoff years. Starters were

routinely held out of late-season games that had no bearing on

playoff position.

The most glaring example came in 2009 when the Colts were 14-0,

yet yanked their starters in the third quarter of a home game

against the New York Jets. Indy lost the game, played some starters

one series the next week in snowy Buffalo, and lost a few weeks

later to New Orleans in the Super Bowl.

But after making this year’s historic turnaround from 2-14 to

10-5, and enduring the emotional roller-coaster of losing a head

coach for 12 weeks and now getting him back, the Colts want to

play. They are locked into the AFC’s No. 5 seed and will open the

playoffs on the road against the AFC’s No. 4 seed, Baltimore or New


Players embraced Pagano’s choice.

”I think there is something to be said about keeping your

momentum going and I think it could be a positive thing,” outside

linebacker Dwight Freeney said. ”I think guys who are banged up,

they shouldn’t play. But I think that guys who can play, should

play. Yeah, you’re risking getting hurt, but that’s just what it

is. It’s part of the game.”

The Colts want to win this one for another reason: their


With Pagano out, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians went 9-3,

tying the league record for wins after a midseason coaching change.

He led the Colts within one victory of the second-greatest

turnaround in league history with nine more wins than the previous


Pagano, though, was fighting a much larger battle. On Nov. 5,

his oncologist, Dr. Larry Cripe, announced that the cancer was in

complete remission. A month later, Pagano completed the final round

of treatment and last week Cripe told reporters Pagano had been

given medical clearance to return to the sideline.

”I think we’re really getting everything back to normal, but I

think everyone in the building is just glad to have him around,”

safety Antoine Bethea said. ”We want things rolling like we’ve

had, but with Chuck added.”

Pagano did say center Samson Satele and backup running back

Delone Carter would miss the Texans game because of ankle injuries.

He made it clear a handful of others such as running back Donald

Brown and defensive end Cory Redding could wind up on the bench to

recover from injuries.

Otherwise, Pagano expects this to be just another game week.

”We’re going to approach it just like we approached the first

three and the way they approached the last 12,” he said. ”We’d

all like to win 11 games, that’s our goal and that’s our


Online: and