INDIANAPOLIS - The
Indianapolis Colts split time this week between the intricacies of
football and the harsh realities of life.
Before and after
practice, they called and sent text messages to their ailing coach,
Chuck Pagano, discussed his battle with leukemia and coped with the
On Sunday, the
Colts can finally take a break — for about three hours — when
Green Bay comes to town.
football field) is where you get away from your worldly troubles,
the things that are weighing on you," defensive end Cory
Redding said. "That's where we get to be who we are and once
the game is over, you go back to life."
It won't be easy
leaving the emotional scars behind with stark reminders plastered
all over Lucas Oil Stadium.
Interim coach Bruce
Arians will be calling the shots for the first time in his
two-decade NFL career.
will be talking exclusively with coordinator Greg Manusky and his
assistants on the sideline.
There are supposed
to be new signs inside the stadium paying tribute to Pagano and a
taped get-well message from Redding that will be shown on the
stadium's two large Jumbotron screens before kickoff. Even the pink
towels and shoes worn by the players, for breast cancer awareness
month, are likely to rekindle thoughts about Pagano as he embarks on
the second week of his own fight against cancer.
Pagano, who turned
52 on Tuesday, is expected to spend six to eight weeks in an
Indianapolis hospital as he undergoes treatment. He is not expected
to resume his full head-coaching duties this season.
So while players
are psyched up to win one for Pagano, Arians is pleading with the
Colts (1-2) to honor their coach by playing the way Pagano preaches
— relentlessly hard.
"This is kind
of our safe haven, and when we get out there, it's business as usual
and we stay there, we stay focused at that moment one play at a
time, one day at a time," said Arians, Indy's offensive
coordinator. "That's just what we have to do. We can't get
caught up (in the emotion)."
The Packers know
what they're up against.
Just 8½ months
ago, Green Bay walked onto its home field for a playoff game against
the New York Giants less than a week after the body of a 21-year-old
man was pulled out of the Fox River. It was the son of former
offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, now the Dolphins coach.
The best team in
the NFL's regular-season in 2011 wound up losing to the eventual
Super Bowl champs in the biggest upset of the playoffs.
Though coach Mike
McCarthy calls the two scenarios completely different, he
understands the Colts he sees Sunday may not resemble the team he's
been watching on film all week.
"This is not a
normal day for their football team, no doubt about it,"
McCarthy said. "I think there's going to be a ton of emotion in
the building on Sunday."
Arians and the
Colts have tried to keep things as normal as possible this week.
They practiced and
met at the same times, took their regularly-scheduled Tuesday off,
pored over film, installed a game plan and kept trying to fine-tune
ways to slow down the likes of Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and Charles
stunning diagnosis has changed the whole perspective of this game.
Instead of billing
it as a head-to-head matchup between what some viewed as virtual
quarterbacking twins in, reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers and No. 1
overall draft pick Andrew Luck, the focus has suddenly turned to the
real-world challenges faced by Pagano and his players — even
though the result is still likely to be dictated by the performances
of Rodgers and Luck.
is such a personable guy. He's got an electric personality. Guys
feed off that," former Colts and current Packers center Jeff
Saturday said, recalling how Indy coped with the death of Tony
Dungy's son in 2005. "It's a little bit different than what we
went through with Tony, and I'm sure they're trying to unify behind
this thing with Reggie (Wayne) and (Robert) Mathis and (Antoine)
Bethea. They know how to handle adversity."
But in the
sometimes cruel world of the NFL, the show must go on.
you're dealing with a situation bigger than the game, bigger than
football, it's always tough," Raji said. "I would think
I'd want to go out and try to win the game for my coach. We can't
worry about that. I wish them the best, but on that particular day,
we're trying to win the game."
So are the Colts.
While team owner
Jim Irsay wasted no time in explaining this week's mission —
delivering the game ball to Pagano, something the Colts will only do
if they can win — Arians must make sure the Colts remain focused
on doing their job.
"I think more
and more as the week progresses, more and more the emphasis is going
to be try to win this game for Chuck. Chuck doesn't want that,"
Arians said. "He doesn't want to put that extra pressure on
these guys. Just win the game because we want to win the game, and
that'll be the extra icing on the cake to give him that birthday