SI Vault
 
CHUCKSTRONG, LUCKSTRONG
Peter King
December 03, 2012
BUOYED BY A PRECOCIOUS ROOKIE QUARTERBACK AND INSPIRED BY THEIR COACH'S COURAGEOUS BATTLE, THE COLTS HAVE TURNED THEMSELVES INTO CONTENDERS IN THE UNLIKELIEST STORY OF THE NFL SEASON
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 03, 2012

Chuckstrong, Luckstrong

BUOYED BY A PRECOCIOUS ROOKIE QUARTERBACK AND INSPIRED BY THEIR COACH'S COURAGEOUS BATTLE, THE COLTS HAVE TURNED THEMSELVES INTO CONTENDERS IN THE UNLIKELIEST STORY OF THE NFL SEASON

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6

Or we could start with the guy Grigson and owner Jimmy Irsay hired as their coach, the itinerant, 52-year-old Pagano. He was the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2011, his 12th coaching position in 28 seasons, and had never interviewed for a head-coach job at any level before last January. Early in Pagano's interview, Grigson wrote on his legal pad, "[Players] will run through a brick wall for this guy." And that was it.

A diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, wasn't part of the plan. Who knows why the Colts are 6--2 since Pagano got the crushing news during the Colts' bye week in late September? It's always dangerous to invoke Hollywood in a life-and-death story, but as interim coach Bruce Arians, Pagano's close friend, says, "This whole story's for Steven Spielberg. I can't explain it."

If this were a movie, it would certainly include the scene in which Pagano, in the first game he attended after the diagnosis, climbed on a chair in Grigson's stadium suite to pound on the window, trying to get the attention of the Colts' coaches about a play he wanted them to run.

Or we could start with Pagano's stand-in, the 60-year-old Arians, hired to be Luck's offensive coordinator, then finding himself thrown into something he never could have expected. The first thing Arians, formerly the Steelers' coordinator, did when he took the interim job was to flip on the light switch in Pagano's office and, energy conservation be darned, order that it stay on until Pagano's return. Tutoring Luck would have been more than a full-time job alone, but adding his first head-coaching duties and the awkwardness of stepping aside when Pagano intercedes with a text makes the job a balancing act that no other coach has ever had to deal with.

Arians waves this off and says, "I tell Chuck, 'You coach your ass off from the couch, and we'll handle the rest. Don't worry. The job's gonna get done.'"

Or we could start with the response of so many Hoosiers, who have embraced a man many of them had never heard of 11 months ago. By last weekend locals had bought enough CHUCKSTRONG T-shirts and bracelets to raise more than a quarter million dollars for leukemia research. Others have shown their support by shaving their heads in solidarity with Pagano, who has gone bald from his chemo treatments. Nearly three dozen Colts players and staff, including Luck, did so in early November, as did players from the nearby Covenant Christian High football team. And on the sideline during Sunday's Colts-Bills game, cheerleaders Megan Meadors, 26, and Crystal Anne Belen, 24, had their long brunette locks shorn, raising almost $23,000 in donations. This was not a small decision for Meadors, the 2008 Miss Indiana. "This is going to have a shock factor," she said last week. "I want to send a message."

But really, to be simple and straightforward about it, we should start with the importance of one player.

Andrew Luck was drafted No. 1 overall by the Colts on April 26, but because NFL rules dictate that drafted seniors can't report to their new teams until after completing their degrees, Luck was at a severe disadvantage. Save for two postdraft minicamps, he couldn't report to Indy until mid-June, six weeks before training camp was to begin. By comparison, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson could report full time to Washington and Seattle, respectively, in mid-May.

Why this matters: Luck played in a mostly short-passing, move-the-sticks West Coast scheme at Stanford, and Arians hates the West Coast offense. He doesn't think it sufficiently empowers a QB to change his protections or his hot (safety valve) receivers at the line of scrimmage. "My quarterback has to be able to fix problems," says Arians. Learning how to do that would take time, even for a sponge like Luck. But from the time he arrived in Indianapolis, Luck showed the learning curve wasn't going to intimidate him.

In one of his first practices, Luck faced eight snaps against blitzes. It was a disaster. He completed one pass, appeared totally discombobulated, and as one defensive player on the field that day recalls, "If that had been a heavyweight fight, it would have been a first-round knockout."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6