A man with no hair, a quivering voice and a black jacket two sizes too big for his thin shoulders pushed the rest of the NFL to the sideline Sunday. Chuck Pagano, the Indianapolis Colts' head coach, returned to his team Sunday for the first time since being diagnosed with leukemia and delivered a 73-second speech that will go down as one of the NFL's all-time most inspiring moments. Check out some the most powerful moments from Pagano's speech below.
Greeted by Cheers
A celebration is underway. In a breakthrough moment for the franchise, the Colts have just beaten the Miami Dolphins, 23 - 20. In 2011, the Colts' were 2-14, worst in the NFL, after losing long-time superstar quarterback Peyton Manning to neck surgery. Owner Jim Irsay hired Pagano to begin the hard work of rebuilding in 2012. With the league-worst record came the first pick in the 2012 draft, with which the Colts took Stanford's Andrew Luck, considered by many the best college quarterback prospect since Manning—a fact not lost on the Colts' injured star. Manning made clear he did not want to mentor Luck, the Colts released him and he signed with Denver.
But Luck has been even better than advertised and, inspired by Pagano, the Colts have risen to 5-3. And Sunday was Luck's best day yet as he threw for 433 yards, an NFL rookie record, and his fourth 300-plus-yard game, a mark achieved by only one other rookie quarterback in history: Peyton Manning.
As Pagano enters the post-game celebration, he removes his hat to reveal a bald head. The cheers grow louder then stop as he begins to speak.
"I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and you weren't living in circumstances."
Pagano was originally not going to speak prior to the game due to concerns about the compromised state of his immune system.
"'Cuz you know where they had us in the beginning. Every last one of them."
Typical of most media members, Sports Illustrated's Peter King, the dean of NFL reporters, picked the Colts as fifth worst of the NFL's 32 teams at 5-11. ESPN's stat-service AccuScore forecast Indy to be 4-12.
"But you refused to live in circumstances. But you decided, consciously, as a team, and as a family, to live in a vision."
As much as any other professional team, the Colts are defined by family ties. Irsay's father bought the team when he was 12. Three starters have more than a decade of service with the Colts: Linebackers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney and Luck's favorite target, receiver Reggie Wayne. Wayne considered leaving the team after Manning's departure, but returned for a 12th season when Pagano, who recruited Wayne to the University of Miami out of high school, took over.
"That's why you bring things home like you brought home today."
Miami led the league in defending third down plays, but Luck and Indianapolis played with the poise and discipline to convert 13 of 19 third downs on the Dolphins, including four straight on late drives leading to 10 game-winning points.
"That's why you're already champions and well on your way."
By beating Miami, the Colts gave themselves an important leg-up on the Dolphins towards a playoff wildcard berth.
"I got circumstances."
On Oct. 1, the team announced Pagano had been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a bone marrow cancer, and that he was leaving the team to be hospitalized for chemotherapy treatment.
"You guys understand it. I understand it. It's already beat. It's already beat."
The "cure" rate for Pagano's diagnosis is as high as 80% to 90%, according to experts. By coincidence, one of the referees for the Miami-Colts game, Tony Corrente, returned to NFL duty this year after undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments to fight a tumor on his tongue last year.
"My vision that I'm living is to see two more daughters, get married, dance at their weddings and then hoist that Lombardi several times."
The winner of the Super Bowl receives the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Pagano has three daughters, Tara, Taylor and Tori. Tara is married with two daughters.
"I'm dancing in two more weddings and we're hoisting that trophy together...Congratulations. I love all of you. Thank you so much."
Two Phrases You Must Know for Your Monday Night Football Party:
1. Road Trip! Eagles fans are among the best traveling in the NFL, and tonight's game is Philadelphia's first trip to New Orleans since 2007. With few other appealing road destinations this season or next, Eagles fans are headed to the Big Easy in droves. According to the Green Legion travel agency, flights to the game were sold out in August. A pep rally is planned for Lafayette Square followed by a march to the Superdome. And perhaps best news of all for Philly fans: The manager of Bourbon St.-institution Pat O'Brien's is from Philly.
2. Look Out! Led by quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints have the NFL's best passing offense and average 27 points per game. Unfortunately, the Saints are dead last in total defense and allow over 30 points per game. They are likely to offer as much resistance to Eagles' quarterback Michael Vick as the bartenders on Bourbon Street will to his fans.