chuck-pagano-story

‘Chuckstrong’ Is Gone, but the Urgency Isn’t

What Chuck Pagano is doing to keep the Colts motivated after last year's memorable season; final thoughts from my camp tour

“Most roller coasters, you get off and you say, ‘Let’s go again! Let’s do it again!’ That was us last year. Right away this year, Chuck gave us our motivation: ‘Hoist that Lombardi Trophy.’ “

—Veteran Colts safety Antoine Bethea, on being motivated by coach Chuck Pagano in absentia last year, and in person this year.

ANDERSON, Ind. — Much to do this morning, winding up the 20-camp, two-game, 11,969-mile tour of NFL training camps, and covering another costly injury (Dustin Keller’s knee in Miami), but we start with the inspirational story and unlikeliest playoff team from 2012, and what the Colts are going to do for an encore.

First off, an acknowledgement of the real world in the NFL—even on good teams, change is constant. When Chuck Pagano stared out at his team on the first night of training camp here, he saw 47 percent new faces from 2012 (42 of the 90 players were first-year Colts), and, on the coaching staff, he saw a new offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) and special teams coordinator (Tom McMahon). Par for the course in today’s NFL. When Pagano watches practice, he sees so many new things. Such as first-round pass rusher Bjoern Werner working with free-agent Kenyan rugby player Daniel Adongo, teaching him about the game he just took up two weeks earlier. “We’ve got a German national teaching a Kenyan rugby player the art of the pass rush,” said GM Ryan Grigson. “Humanity at its finest! Our sport at its finest! That’s the new world of the NFL right there.”

Pagano lords over it all. Sitting in a golf cart on the practice fields at Anderson University one day last week, he couldn’t stop smiling about it. A year ago, Pagano felt worn down, run down, just plain lousy, in training camp. He thought he was just working too hard. But his energy was down, even after a good night’s sleep. He was diagnosed with leukemia, cancer of the blood, in late September. You know the rest. The team, inspired by Pagano’s fight and by late-game heroics by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, went 9-3 in his absence and earned a wild-card playoff berth.

Now for the encore. Whatever it is.

Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t just dropping by in Indy

Eight days ago, the Colts opened the preseason against Buffalo, at home. Before the game, on the field, Pagano watched a video montage of the 2012 season—the comebacks, the inspiring cancer-stricken coach appearing at a home game in the middle of it all, the cheerleaders who shaved their heads to be one with the hairless Pagano. Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen sidled up to Pagano.

“Did all that really happen last year?’” Christensen said.

“I say the same thing all the time,” Pagano said.

Pagano gets checked every three months. Each time they’ve checked his blood, he gets a text from his doctor, Larry Cripe, that says (he has it memorized), “You remain in complete molecular remission.” He’ll take an anti-leukemia concoction for two weeks every three months until early 2015, then he’ll be checked for three years after that. “Five years is the magic number for this type of leukemia,” Pagano said. “I’ve got a while to go, but they say the cure rate is up around 90 percent now. So I’m very optimistic. But to say it will never come back again, I mean, there’s cases all over. Like Robin Roberts—she beat breast cancer and then something else hit her. To say it will never come back again, who knows?”

But sitting here, on a sunny, unseasonably cool day in his adopted home state, Pagano looks like he always looked as a coaching lifer—tanned, fit, lively, his salt-and-pepper goatee the same as when he took this job 20 months ago. A bad back forces him to bike, not jog. He lifts a few weights to, at 52, stave off gravity. “I feel a thousand times better than last year,” he said. “I was just tired all last summer.”

I ask about what he can use to drive his team this year, seeing as though there will never be the kind of goosebumpy motivation of 2012 available to him—or maybe any NFL coach—this year, or in the future.

Table of Contents

What you'll find in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback:


Page 1—One year after Chuckstrong. The 2012 season was an unforgettable one for many reasons in Indianapolis, but how did it impact Chuck Pagano's and the Colts' outlook? And what do they have planned for an encore, minus the motivation of Pagano's fight with leukemia?


Page 2—One observation from every stop on my camp tour; Photos from my three weeks on the road.


Page 3—Quotes of the Week; Tweets of the Week; The offensive overhaul in St. Louis is remarkable


Page 4—Ten Things I Think I Think, featuring E.J. Manuel's and Dustin Keller's injuries and preseason Week 2 standouts; The Adieu Haiku

“That’s a great question that I get asked all the time, and it’s tough to answer,” Pagano said. “There’s always something, something that happens during the season—a devastating loss, an unfortunate tragedy, whatever it may be. To me, we play this game and make the sacrifices that we make for the love of the game, and the opportunity to hoist that Lombardi. But really, the only thing we are guaranteed as a group is this year. So, let’s take advantage of it and say this is our one shot. You think about the NFL today—we’ve got all these new faces in the meeting room. We’ve got this one year together, but are we guaranteed next year? No, so let’s throw all our chips in the middle and let’s give it everything that we have.”

Said Luck: “I can’t imagine anyone on our team—anyone in the NFL—needing some kind of extra motivation to go out and win. We don’t need it. We’ve all got it. We want to go further than we did last year.”

We’ll see. Motivation’s a tricky thing. We in the media probably overrate it. But I find it hard to believe there wasn’t something a little extra around this team last year when, 10 times a day, Pagano would text or phone from his hospital room or recovery bedroom at home to urge players on, with the littlest things. Like the time Pagano phoned Grigson one night at dinner to remind him to make sure he got a ball painted for castoff cornerback Darius Butler earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Or the time Pagano, at the first game he attended while still sick, got up on a swivel chair in the GM’s box to rap on the window between that booth and the assistant coaches and scream at them to look up at the replay because they might want to challenge a play. “I’m like, ‘Chuck! GET DOWN!’ ” said Grigson. “I mean, here’s this weak, sick guy, teetering up on a swivel chair, and if he falls …”

This year is going to be more football than made-for-TV movie. But Pagano will have no trouble passing on the message he’s believed since he took this job.

The message is what a privilege it is to play and coach in the NFL. Right when you start thinking that it is your right, you probably are gone.

“Basically,” he said, “the message is what a privilege it is to play and coach in the NFL. Right when you start thinking that it is your right, you probably are gone. Because there’s somebody working extremely hard to try to get your locker, get your jersey number. You know how we’re judged as coaches. By one thing and one thing only—wins and losses. On the heels of what we went through last year, that’s at a new level. It’s heightened even more. I think it’s something that if it ever happens again, I mean, they say lightning can’t strike twice but who knows?

“In the hospital, I met people who weren’t going home. For example, a kid named Cory Lane, who was one of those coin toss kids at one of our games. Cory had written me a note while I was in the hospital and sent me photos and things like that. Well, he lost his battle last spring. He turned 16 years old and he lost his battle. So I mean, cancer is a bully. I’m just one of the fortunate ones. I realize that every day.”

On this day, Pagano, one of the fortunate ones, took the field and moved from group to group—showing some technique to a couple of rookie linebackers at one point, talking to the visiting parents of Reggie Wayne for a while, huddling with his secondary. It’s a new season, and no one’s happier about experiencing it than Pagano.

Colts should be much better in Year 2 of Pagano era

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133 comments
JOBOOZOSO
JOBOOZOSO

Your photos are a superb addition to the MMQB. Thank you!

Kevin73
Kevin73

This new bloated hijacking of the MMQB does NOT work on many levels. To put it into terms Peter King would understand, MMQB was a column that was like a corner coffee shop. Stop by, get a cup of joe, and talk football with King. Finish before the coffee was gone or cold. Then, the column started getting bloated (e.g., beernerdness, 3-4 aggravating travel notes, and the Adieu Haiku) or irrelevant (I.e., political views, movie reviews). Now, to finish the analogy, MMQB has franchised from a coffee shop into a full service Starbucks. You got guest baristas telling you the life cycle of the beans, dozens of drink choices, and guest columnists. I'm sorry but a punter (photographed all Mad Maxxed out with a sword puncturing the ball) telling us the heart-rending story of camp competition. Try waiting in line all day to be one of 2300 people applying at a new hardware store opening. Plus the new dew-dads look and work terrible on and iPad.

Please go back to King writing a column (singular) about football.

Nick B
Nick B

This website, much like life, is not Blackberry 3G friendly.

Midtown_Guy
Midtown_Guy

I've been reading Peter for years, but the best thing I can say about the new site? Haven't looked at Grantland.com once since they've started. Seriously. I'm a nurse with a busy life, and this site, plus having the magazine delivered to my iPad, is all I need to keep up with sports. Great job, guys.

chopx8
chopx8

Love the site content, but it does not work on an ipad!!!...  This week it will not even load properly..

Different design needed for mobile an dipad...

N Lilly
N Lilly

This site is becoming an embarrassment.  Fast.  The content remains fairly strong, but the site itself has problems that would have been baffling in 2003.  Just look at the flagship "Monday Morning Quarterback" piece... The font size isn't even standard!  It took 2 weeks of user complaints to get a print version in place!  These are problems a 13-year old web rookie could solve... Simply confusing that a major national football analyst is having problems that local radio shows would be ashamed of on their web platforms. 


Stop kidding yourself.... This isn't going well.  Find $50k in the budget somewhere and get a proper web person.  

diegocavalier
diegocavalier

This is the first time I've seen the new format, and I'm very disappointed.  Several of my favorite websites have adopted this same format, and it's driven me to stop reading them.  I don't understand the benefit, and I think it is extremely unpleasing to the eye.

PraveenRamadoss
PraveenRamadoss

Pages dont show up on Android, my Google Nexus 4 shows only the 1s page

KennyFatAlbertha
KennyFatAlbertha

Face it folks. Luck will be around for awhile. 

Everyone can trash talk it every which way as Patriots diehard jerkoffs or what not but you remember December 2010-January 2011 when Michael Vick went from being the most vilifed character in the country to having the Number 1 jersey sold? 

But drunk football fans have short memories as alcoholics and beating their wives (or husbands).

And Peter, you're doing a good job. But sometimes as fans, we get spoiled all the time by so much media coverage and insider knowledge we obviously don't need to do because its the job of guys like you to do. Spend all those long days researching and talking to the teams and coaches. Something bleacher creatures can't do unless their screaming drunk epithets or posting as "Random Indian Journalists" on schissing Suzy Soolber.

CMFJ
CMFJ

"But Russell Wilson’s Seahawks beat Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers last year, and he was up on Peyton Manning 27-7 when they were on the field together Saturday night."

Considering that 14 of Seattle's points were not scored by the offense (107 yd KO return and 106 yd fumble return) and that Manning had the Broncos at the 1 yard line on that fumble, the score is meaningless in comparing Wilson and Manning.

PK4
PK4

To say Coach Pagano "saw 47 percent new faces from 2012 (42 of the 90 players were first-year Colts)" is a bit misleading since the regular season roster is only 53 players.  What would be important is how many of the 48 returning players were on the roster at some point during the season  ?  

Knowitall
Knowitall

"The funniest thing about Ryan Dempster throwing at ARod"? "The funniest thing about Ryan Dempster throwing at ARod"?

This is simply sick. Don't forget, dear Peter, that your beloved Red Sox tried to sign ARod, but were too cheap to do so. He would have add a nice end-piece to go along with disgraced Manny Ramirez ( so prominent in the only two Red Sox championships you now get woozy over), and the ever-doubted Big Papi, simply lucky enough not to be a proven drug user, just an alleged one (wink, wink) at this point.

These ARod comments prove once again that you should not be taken seriously as a sports commentator. You are just as shill for your favorite teams, and your liberal causes.

Whatever ARod has done, whatever kind of ass he is, there s nothing funny. Nothing funny. About Dempster throwing at him. And nothing funny about Farrell denying it. To say otherwise is sick - just as sick as the cheering by the demented fans in your favorite town, your favorite ball park.

You want to moralize in this column? Try this: baseballs thrown at people sometimes kill, often maim. Destroy lives and careers. Just because you think someone is an a$$ (or maybe you Are still upset your team didn't

land him) does not mean we get to laugh when someone throws at him. We, of course, don't laugh. Just you.

You stink.

cottsb1
cottsb1

all this high horse attacks on PED users seems delusional. The truth is that we still don't have good enough testing to know who is using and who isn't. Are you really blaming people getting paid millions of dollars for using things that help them to continue to perform at a high level. Also A-Rod is being made a scapegoat. As much as he is a very annoying player the CBA already has suspensions in place and it is the yankees fault for giving him a huge contract they are now trying to void.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

I can think of no ex-player or coach that has survived more on hype than Jon Gruden. He has absolutely no ability in the booth at all. None.

Scramble
Scramble

I was at the Ravens game Thursday. After watching Flacco in the first half, Denver's secondary may not have as any worries as they look like they might.

David200
David200

When he mentioned Andy Reid using the tennis ball thrower all I could think of was the quote from dodgeball: if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.

mgranadosv
mgranadosv

This is Gruden's last year in ESPN because he is completely and absolutely horrendous and awful at it. Maybe he'll do better in the sidelines being in love with every single player in the league.

GeorgeErnsberger
GeorgeErnsberger

It was one Edward Hoyt who coined the term "5-tool tool" for Ryan Braun--been one pretty much his whole career, he said.

Darren6
Darren6

Russell Wilson beat Aaron Rogers.....really? still counting that as a win

Midtown_Guy
Midtown_Guy

Chopx8, I'm reading this on my iPad via the Safari browser, so maybe it's not the site.... :)

doghockey
doghockey

@KennyFatAlbertha  The same guy who uses the phrase Patriots diehard jerkoffs waits only a few lines before deciding to hop on his high horse and preach about drunken epithets.  But I would guess that you don't see the irony.

Mike26
Mike26

@CMFJ Wilson is becoming PK's new darling, so OF COURSE it means something!

bamesbameron
bamesbameron

Hey schmuck I'm skeptical that 75mph pitches to Arod's a$$ us going to kill him

Shane Mac
Shane Mac

@Knowitall Please change your name to KnowNothingAtAll and stop your whining.  You're treading the fetid water of ARod Swamp and sinking slowly.  

Jnash23
Jnash23

@Knowitall Sox weren't 'too cheap,' the trade they were working on with the Rangers didnt work out (thankfully!). Sox are one of the only few teams that have/had the money to spend for a player like him.

ArnoldNewman
ArnoldNewman

@Knowitall Take a chill pill.  King wasn't condoning Dempster.  Would you feel better if he had used the term "ironic".


BTW, Alex "I cheat" Rodriguez should not even be playing.

Mike26
Mike26

@Knowitall You're right it's not funny at all - the whole situation is sickening.  There is no way that A-Rod should even be playing.  It's pretty obvious that his peers have no use/respect/time for him, and I doubt that this will be the last time this happens.  Each time it happens fewer and fewer Yankees will jump to his aid as well, and that is a telling sign.  A-Rod and Braun are the poster children for what is and has been wrong with baseball for the last (almost) 20 years and I have no sympathy for either of the lying, conniving cheaters.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

@cottsb1 Your second sentence says it all, cottsb. Virtually no one fails the drug tests. Why the hell is that? I don't know, but it's clear that hundreds of guys are using them and barely tens of guys are getting caught. Could it be because baseball (and the other sports as well) aren't really all that interested in catching cheaters? I merely ask the question.

Mike26
Mike26

@Rickapolis I don't know - where would you rate Mr. .500, Jeff Fisher?  AT least Gruden won a Super Bowl, albeit with a team built by Dungy.  Fisher's barely made it there ONCE, lost, and has survived what, 18 seasons now?

Great call on Gruden though!

dhartm2
dhartm2

The 08 Lions were 4-0 in the preseason, I wouldn't read too much into it.

ConradWesleyClough
ConradWesleyClough

@Darren6 A win is a win... the only thing that matters is the check in the W or L column, not how it gets there.

Sdwalt
Sdwalt

@Mike26 @CMFJ If Wilson was on my team, I would have a man crush on him too.

FeliciaFitzgerald
FeliciaFitzgerald

@Mike26 As long as he stops his NY Giants man-love, I'll be happy with PK falling in love with Wilson.

Knowitall
Knowitall

Is that you, Mrs King? Sorry to call out little Peter's hypocrisy.

Now take your medicine and go to bed.

Knowitall
Knowitall

Go back and read the post and tell me he didn't mean " ha ha" funny. Or better yet, let's ask Mr King to clarify what he meant.

Knowitall
Knowitall

No, jnash23, you are wrong. The Red Sox wanted to restructure the contract to make it less expensive. The Players Association would not allow it. They could have stepped up to the original contract and made the deal, but declined.

It was money , not "working out" the trade. You may have other words. I call it too cheap.

Boston fans like King conveniently forget this, just like they chose not to remember the fact that their two World Series titles rest squarely on the shoulders of a proven drug chert in Manny.

chopx8
chopx8

@Midtown_Guy ok, h

just checked, its working today...nothing differnt...maybe a problem on their end...that they corrected....others reported problems on other tablets...

STILL, i htink they need a mobile version...too many huge pictures..not ipad friendly

chopx8
chopx8

@Midtown_Guy  not sure..every other site works fine

dont have anything going on.......last few weeks had minor issues loading past big pictures...but this week its not displaying correctly at all...


Goon
Goon

@Knowitall The breadth of your perspective is amazing.  You are an inspiration.

Knowitall
Knowitall

So ARod gets thrown at. How about Ryan Braun? Melky Cabrera? Nunez?

Who, exactly, is the judge of the "game's decorum" ( great phrase).

And all of this to justify throwing a baseball at certain players, but not others?

Back to the original point: thrown baseballs kill, maim, and injure. Laughing while this happens for some, and condemning it for others, is sick.

How are you feeling?

Mike26
Mike26

@Knowitall Yes, baseball has its own justice on the field for violators of the game's decorum = and A-Rod's done it and continues to defy it.

Knowitall
Knowitall

So I understand that to mean "OK" with you.

Mike26
Mike26

@Knowitall He's pointing out that other players/teams are against everything A-Rod is doing and stands for and how much he's continuing to ruin the game.  PK is hardly the only one doing it - I honestly believe it's going to get worse the longer he plays and eventually the bruises will catch up with him.  Baseball has long had their own form of "justice" = and FINALLY the players are administering it to the cheaters.

Knowitall
Knowitall

Ok. A Red Sox fan. I get it.

Jnash23
Jnash23

@Knowitall Arod OFFERED to restructure his own contract with stipulations that the sox give him ability to have various marketing/logo rights. That got shot down so the Sox did not trade Manny to the Rangers. The two WS did not rest 'squarely' on the shoulders of Manny either...as he did not come back from a 3-0 series deficit by himself.. Drugs or not, Manny is one of the best hitters in this era. Players have been using different kinds of PEDs for years and no one put up the numbers like him, so to say that drugs are the only reason his stats are what they are is ignorant because with your mentality the hundreds of hitters who have taken drugs would all have .300+ career averages, etc...

Baseball like other sports is entertainment. Drugs are being used in all major league sports....im just trying to enjoy the games at this point.

Knowitall
Knowitall

Yeah, you're right Mike26. Let's just keep throwing at him until they banish him. We can laugh right along with Peter - right up until they blind him, or crack his skull.

The point is not the contract. The point is the selective moralizing of our faithful correspondent. ARod's an ass with a belated contract, and he's selfish, so we get to enjoy him being thrown at? Ok with Peter. Not me. And you?

Mike26
Mike26

@Knowitall Knowitall:  The Red Sox and all of baseball knew that he wasn't worth that first contract OR the second one - only the Yankees have the cash to waste.  Their bonus is the unending circus that continues to besmirch baseball and Yankee tradition.  Accept it for what it is.

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