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Tearful Colts coach Chuck Pagano returns after bout with cancer

Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano wipes tear during news conference Monday Dec. 24 2012 Indianapolis. Pagano returns team after

Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano wipes a tear during a news conference Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, in Indianapolis. Pagano returns to the team after undergoing successful leukemia treatment. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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Updated: December 24, 2012 6:42PM

polis Colts coach Chuck Pagano was so eager to get back to work Monday that he was the first one to show up at team headquarters.

Long before meeting with his players, Pagano drove quietly into the complex, walked into the office where the lights have remained on for nearly three months and began preparing for the Colts’ game Sunday against the Houston Texans like it was another day at the office.

Hardly. It was the biggest milestone yet in an incredibly emotional season in which Pagano, 52, has beaten leukemia and the Colts (10-5) have been a most pleasant surprise in reaching the playoffs under interim coach Bruce Arians.

‘‘I told you the best day of my life was July 1, 1989,’’ an emotional
Pagano said, referring to his wedding date. ‘‘Today was No. 2 — getting to pull up, drive in, get out of my car. The key fob still worked. I was beginning to question whether it would or not.

‘‘When I asked Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Damn, Bruce, you had to go and win nine [out of 12] games? Tough act to follow. Best in the history of the NFL. That’s what I have to come back to.’’

The comment turned tears into the laughter everyone expected on such a festive occasion. Players, coaches and staff members had been anticipating this day from the moment they learned Pagano, who endured three rounds of chemotherapy, was taking an indefinite leave to fight cancer Oct. 1. When he spoke at a private team meeting before the news conference, cheering could be heard all the way from the media room.

‘‘I know Chuck is ready for this challenge,’’ Colts owner Jim Irsay said. ‘‘I know the time is right for him to grab the reins and get the head-coaching cap on and begin the journey. . . . It’s a fairy-tale story.
It’s a Hollywood script. It’s all of those things.’’


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