By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — One of the greatest sights during the opening days of Indianapolis Colts training camp has been Chuck Pagano bouncing around with full energy.
The head coach, of course, missed most of his first season after being diagnosed with leukemia. He returned for the final regular-season game and the AFC Wild Card playoff loss in Baltimore, but he's still receiving treatments every six months.
The amazing part is there is no visible sign of the toll the disease must have taken. His hair has fully grown back, and he's as animated as ever running from station to station to coach his players.
He said doctors have given him no restrictions, and the only changes he's made to his daily camp routine are procedural.
"You know you always learn from experience so there's a few minor things here and there," Pagano said. "But the basic format, the way we run our meetings, the way that we run our walkthroughs, the time that we practice, those things are all going to be the same."
It was here in Anderson when the warning signs first began to appear last year.
Pagano felt fatigued and unexplained bruising began to appear, but it was easy to write those symptoms off to the rigors of training camp and the added pressure of being a first-time head coach.
He finally agreed to consult a doctor during the Colts' bye week, after he'd completed a full preseason and three regular-season games. The diagnosis came back as acute promyelocytic leukemia, and the coach became an inspiration from the start.
More than 30 players shaved their heads in solidarity, and countless others — including two Colts cheerleaders — joined them around the city. The "ChuckStrong" campaign was born, with proceeds from countless sales of t-shirts and wrist bands emblazoned with the slogan going toward leukemia research.
A young team rallied around Pagano's example and finished with the surprise playoff appearance.
The head coach returned just before Christmas and led the team to a 28-16 victory over the Houston Texans in Week 17 at Lucas Oil Stadium. That game, and the standing ovation Pagano received from the fans before it, was nominated for an Espy Award as the year's best sports moment.
Some have wondered what the Colts will use as motivation this season, with its head coach back on the sideline. But Pagano likely still is the answer.
As simple as the goal once seemed, the team would like nothing more than to play for its head coach for a full season.
"It'd be huge," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "It would be unbelievable. I think the most important thing last year was that he did come back and coach the last two games and was in remission. If we could have him for the whole season, that would be truly awesome."