Chuck Pagano returns to coaching three months after leukemia diagnosis

Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano shouts out

Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano shouts out to his team during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching) (Credit: AP)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Chuck Pagano stepped to the podium Monday, hugged the team owner, thanked his family for its support and wiped a tear from his eye.

He might, finally, turn out the lights in his office, too.

Nearly three months to the day after being diagnosed with leukemia, the Colts' first-year coach returned to a team eager to reunite with a boss healthy enough to go back to work.

"I told you my best day of my life was July 1, 1989," Pagano said, referring to his wedding date. "Today was No. 2. Getting to pull up, drive in, get out of my car, the key fob still worked. I was beginning to question whether it would or not.

"When I asked for Bruce [Arians] to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Damn, Bruce, you had to go and win nine games? Tough act to follow. Tough act to follow. Best in the history of the NFL. That's what I have to come back to."

The comment turned tears into the laughter everyone expected on such a festive occasion.

For Pagano and the Colts, Monday morning was as precious as anyone could have imagined when Pagano took an indefinite leave to face the biggest opponent of his life, cancer.

In his absence, all the Colts did was win nine of 12 games, make a historic turnaround and clinch a playoff spot all before Sunday's regular-season finale against Houston, which they pegged as the day they hoped to have Pagano back. If all goes well at practice this week, Pagano will be on the sideline for the first time since a Week 3 loss to Jacksonville.

Pagano endured three rounds of chemotherapy to put his cancer in remission.

That Pagano's return came less than 24 hours after Indy (10-5) locked up the No. 5 seed in the AFC and the day before Christmas seemed fitting, too.

"I know Chuck is ready for this challenge," owner Jim Irsay said.

Now, the Colts are ready to show the football world that they can be just as successful under Pagano as they were under Arians.

Pagano repeatedly thanked fans for their prayers and letters.

"I feel great, my weight is back, my energy is back and again, it's just a blessing to be back here," Pagano said.

To the players and coaches, Pagano never left. He continually watched practice and game video and regularly called and texted the players and coaches and occasionally delivered a pregame or postgame speech to the team.

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