By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Chuck Pagano's battle against leukemia served as inspiration for NFL fans across the nation last season as the Indianapolis Colts made a remarkable run to the AFC playoffs.
On Monday, the Pro Football Writers of America honored Pagano as the 2013 George Halas Award winner. The Halas Award, in its 44th year, is given each season to the player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed.
"I am honored and humbled to receive this award," Pagano said in a statement released by the Colts. "The encouragement I received from my family, friends, the Irsay family, the Colts organization, the city of Indianapolis and fans around the country was overwhelming. The outpouring of prayers, love and support from a community that hardly knew me made me realize how fortunate and proud I am to serve this organization and city."
Pagano could not have been a difficult choice.
Hired as Indianapolis' head coach on Jan. 25, 2012, he was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia just three weeks into the regular season.
Then-offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, now the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, assumed Pagano's position on an interim basis as his close friend began treatment.
At the press conference announcing his new role, Arians said he would leave the light on in Pagano's office at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center until the head coach returned.
That gesture became a symbol of Pagano's fight, and he quickly found supporters across the country.
The Colts began the "CHUCKSTRONG" campaign that raised money for leukemia research through the sale of t-shirts and wristbands and held a fundraiser and blood drive during an Oct. 21 home game against Cleveland.
More than 30 players — and countless fans — shaved their head in solidarity with Pagano, and two of the team's cheerleaders raised $10,000 for leukemia research by having their heads shaved on the sideline at Lucas Oil Stadium during a Dec. 9 game against Tennessee.
All the while, with Pagano putting his hand in game plans first from his hospital bed and later from his home, the Colts continued to win.
Indianapolis improved from 2-14 in 2011 to 11-5 last year, and the team received an inspirational message from its head coach after a Nov. 4 win against Miami.
"I've got circumstances," Pagano told his players during a surprise appearance in the postgame locker room. "You guys understand it. I understand it. (The leukemia's) already beat. It's already beat. My vision that I'm living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then hoist that Lombardi Trophy several times."
Video of the speech went viral and become one of the indelible images of the season.
Pagano is the fourth member of the Colts' organization to win the Halas Award — joining quarterback Bert Jones, who won it while the franchise still was in Baltimore in 1979, quarterback Jim Harbaugh in 1997 and former head coach Tony Dungy in 2006.
Atlanta's Dan Reeves is the only other head coach to win the award, claiming the honor in 1999.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose wife died during labor negotiations before the start of the preseason, was last year's winner.