The Indianapolis Colts had a bye last week, which gave the franchise a bit more time -- if nothing else -- to deal with devastating news. First-year head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in late September, and the team made that news public on Monday, Oct. 1.
While Pagano has been undergoing treatment at IU Health Simon Cancer Center since Sept. 26, he's been sending emails to his team, studying game tape on his iPad, and staying upbeat.
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Pagano sent a specific message to his team.
"My condition will not determine my position. I understand the condition but choose to focus on my position. That is to stay positive and SERVE.
"WE WILL, WE CAN, WE MUST. WE HAVE NO CHOICE. BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. WE WILL OVERCOME.
"IT'S ALL IN THE PROPER STATE OF MIND."
Pagano also sent a missive to the fans.
Dear Colts Fans,
On behalf of the Pagano family, we want to say thank you for all the love and support that you have shown.
All the cards, gifts, emails, success stories and prayers that we have been showered with give us a tremendous amount of peace and strength.
We could not get through this without you.
In response to their coach's courage, the Colts have put the #CHUCKSTRONG meme just about everywhere in Lucas Oil Stadium in preparation for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers. Rachel Nichols of ESPN tweeted out some great pictures from the stadium on Sunday morning.
According to the team's official site, "The Colts are giving fans an opportunity to show their support and send their well wishes to Coach Pagano and his family, as well as raise funds for leukemia research through a CHUCKSTRONG campaign."
That campaign includes the sale of T-shirts, posters, and a collection, to raise money for leukemia research at the IU Simon Cancer Center. And in the pregame preparation, it was clear that everybody was on board -- even the Packers' players. Many on the Green Bay roster took to the field with "CHUCKSTRONG" T-shirts in Packers colors.
"It shell-shocked a lot of people on the team, including me," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck told the NFL Network of Pagano's diagnosis on Friday. "I don't think I fully grasped the situation, but we also try not to let it affect football too much, which may sound very cold, but I view it as an obligation to coach Pagano that we're still bringing the same intensity, dedication, focus to practice, to meetings and any Colts-related event.
"For him, he wouldn't want us falling off the emotional cliff or starting to do uncharacteristic things because he's not around. But it's a tough deal, and I think we'll learn a lot about ourselves as we go through it."
Colts interim coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who waged a successful war against prostate cancer in 2007, echoed the message that his team must stay on the path.
"He will do fine," Arians told The Associated Press. "I know him. He's a fighter. He's survived tough times already in his life ... As a cancer survivor myself, I know that these first few days are really hard on you, but as he and I talked yesterday, it's just a matter of time."
"We always talk about 'God, Family, Football' in that order, and certainly this has been difficult for him and for his family," Colts owner Jim Irsay said of Pagano when the team announced Pagano's condition. "Knowing Chuck, his first concern is always going to be for his children, his grandchildren, and for his wife.
"I feel with every fiber of my body, and I know Chuck feels the same way, that he can beat this thing."
Pagano will have tough times ahead, but if he ever questioned the support of his own team, or of the NFL in general, the NFL has certainly responded with an affirmative response.
"Don't worry, coach... we got this."