If you’re from Indiana, Chuck Pagano is a household name. If you are not a Hoosier, I will tell you two things. One: the original meaning of ‘Hoosier’ is widely debated and is not important. Two: Chuck Pagano is the coach of the NFL team, the Colts, which plays in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for home games.
Now sports are usually not a topic I write about. Namely, because I know little about sports. My four kids played sports, but I was either chasing a toddler, working in the concession stand mixing up ‘suicides’ for thirsty players, or I was talking to other moms in the stands. Suffice it to say, I was better at laundering their uniforms than I was understanding the finer points of the game. Once my oldest son asked me: “Mom, how could you sit at all of our games and learn nothing?” Well, I learned plenty. None of which would ever help me understand why the NFL needs two kickers–one for punting and one for field goals. I mean…a football is kicked by, umm the foot. How hard can it be? But I digress.
Back to Coach Pagano. Today marked his first Sunday back on the sidelines after a rigorous treatment for leukemia. Now this guy had only coached three games here in Indy, before the Colts team docs addressed some fatigue and bruising Pagano had been experiencing. The diagnosis was made, a plan of treatment put in place, and the football world in Indy was on stand-by.
This afternoon, the coach returned to his team. And an amazing thing happened in that stadium. Everyone gave this survivor of leukemia a standing ovation– even the visiting team and their coaches. I don’t know what was more healing for the Coach; the radiation or the cheers radiating from the stands. His tear-filled eyes and solemn look of thanks said it all. It was the noisiest and most emotionally-filled ‘Get Well’ and ‘Welcome Home’ card in history.
And the Colts won. That’s always good. But even better when it represents a victory off field as well. Cancer isn’t choosey. It can ravage the body of a nine year old, a celebrity, someone’s grandma, or the coach of a football team. Nothing brings one in touch with his inner self, faith, or mortality more than a bad diagnosis. But if the medical condition afflicts a person like Chuck Pagano, no amount of HIPAA privacy laws are going to work. Nope. If the person is well-known, the doctors’ notes will be too. The public feels entitled to every detail. Funny, there’s nothing so basic to humanity as puking in a basin, mustering the strength to shuffle to the toilet, or losing one’s hair. Sick is sick. The protocol is the same: match symptoms with a diagnosis, form a plan of attack, say a lot of prayers. Kind of like that quote that says: “Expect the best. Plan for the worst. Take what comes.”
It was a winning day in the stadium. And I think football had little to do with it. This Sunday, the disease was defeated. The victor appeared and claimed his prize: the love of a city. I know that Coach Pagano may have more health battles ahead, but there was such a spirit of healing in that stadium downtown and it was just the medicine he needed. ‘Chuck Strong’ was no longer a tag…it was a reality.
Coach returns. Cancer loses. Colts win. City celebrates.
A well-played game coached by a man whose real game plan is wellness.