FORT WAYNE – Some day soon, the Man will walk back through that door again, and the light theyve kept burning for him all these weeks will go back to being just a light again. And that will be good. That will be fine. That will be a great day among great days.
Its going to be crazy, Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea says. And, yes, he means that in a good way.
Thats because Chuck Pagano has been gone but never gone, really, like the light in his office theyve kept burning 24/7 since he went off to arm-wrestle leukemia. Its been his roadmap these Colts have followed, his example. A man goes nose-to-nose with cancer, whats his football got to fear from, say, the Green Bay Packers? Why cant they reel off nine wins in 14 games and sit on the doorstep of the playoffs?
The atmosphere is alive and well, just knowing that we want to be playing in January, says outside linebacker Robert Mathis, summing it up. We want our coach, Chuck, to lead us out, so thats a little extra added motivation.
And the rest of the motivation?
Thats come from this guy over here, Bruce Arians.
Youll never get him to acknowledge it, but without his example, too, none of this is happening for these Colts. Theyre not going to Kansas City today with a chance to lock up a playoff berth. Theyre not getting a chance to lead Coach P out for a playoff game. Theyre not using his illness and his absence as motivation because by now thered be nothing for which to be motivated.
Thats why Arians should be the NFLs Coach of the Year. By a mile. By 20 miles.
Nothing short of amazing what hes done, Mathis says.
Hes done a great job just keeping the team intact, keeping the team focused. I cant express how much hes done, Bethea says.
Chiefly what hes done is take a young teams natural passion and channel it, something thats harder than it sounds. It can go two ways when a situation like Paganos arises, especially with a young team. Either the emotion of Winnin It For Chuck burns them out, or it gets harnessed and honed into simple week-by-week effort.
And so here was Arians, talking endlessly about respecting the process. And insisting this was Paganos team, and that all he was doing was maintenance work. And even as he said that, injecting his own tendency to attack, attack, attack.
Im not a dink-and-dunk guy, I never will be, he said this week.
Fine with his young quarterback, Andrew Luck.
Thats his mentality, and we are behind him 100 percent, he says. If we can execute what we do, if Colts arent beating Colts, then we have a chance.
They have that and more now, of course, going to Kansas City. Its a tough place to play, Arrowhead Stadium, and the Chiefs arent hauling out the golf clubs yet, and a misstep here means they have to beat Houston next week to clinch a playoff spot. So this is yet another reason to play for a team thats got a warehouse full.
When a team finds a reason to play, theyll overcome some things, Arians said this week. Even guys we would bring off the street on Wednesday and wed play on Sunday, theyd fight their tails off. When you have guys playing hard for 60 minutes, youre going to win some games because most teams in this league dont play hard for 60 minutes.
The Colts do. And that, of course, is Chuck Paganos legacy.
And Bruce Arians doing.