From 1995 through 2000, Chuck Pagano was an assistant coach under Butch Davis at Miami. One of his jobs was recruiting, and one of Pagano's gets was a receiver from Louisiana by the name of Reggie Wayne. Wayne caught 125 passes for 1,870 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Hurricanes before the Indianapolis Colts selected him in the first round of the 2001 NFL draft.
Over a decade later, Wayne was able to pay Coach Pagano back in ways that nobody could have imagined at the time.
Six days after the Colts announced that Pagano, their first-year head coach, had been diagnosed with leukemia, Wayne went off for his best game ever -- college or pro -- and helped his Colts pick up an emotional and inspiring 30-27 win over the Green Bay Packers at Indy's Lucas Oil Stadium.
Wayne set a career high with 212 yards on 13 catches, and he brought in the game-winning touchdown from rookie quarterback Andrew Luck with 35 seconds left in the game. The Colts were able to erase an 18-point halftime deficit as Luck led five second-half scoring drives.
"He's the best football player I've ever played with," Luck said of Wayne after the game. Luck finished up with 31 completions in 55 attempts for 362 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
Down 21-3 when they went into the locker room, the Colts then showed precisely what can be done by a team determined to transcend its circumstances for a fallen comrade. Several reports indicate that Colts owner Jim Irsay will deliver the game ball to Pagano in his hospital room.
The Colts moved their record to 2-2 after a bye last week, matching the win total they assembled through the entire 2011 season.
"Everyone wanted to get this game done," Wayne said in his postgame press conference. "We went in behind at halftime and just felt like we came out flat and didn't do the things we said we were going to do. [Interim head coach Bruce] Arians said that we weren't going to do anything different -- we were just going to do the things we practiced. And we challenged each other -- we said, 'This is not Colts football, and this is not what we said we were going to do. Let's make ourselves accountable, and be there for your fellow man.'
"'Let's turn this game around for Chuck,' which has been our whole motto all week and for the rest of the year. It was emotional. Jim Irsay got up and made a speech, Coach Arians got up and made a speech, so everyone just wanted to take care of things.
"It was exciting. We were joyous. It was a big win."
It was a tribute to Pagano, who had exhorted his players to focus on the game in an email sent from his hospital bed. Halftime speeches and "Win one for the Gipper" inspirations are generally the stuff of fiction, but the Colts made it very real.
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