Build the monster.
That was Chuck Pagano's motto after he was hired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts to begin the post-Peyton Manning era.
The dream job has been rudely interrupted by a family nightmare.
Pagano is facing a monster called promyelocytic leukemia
On Oct. 2, Pagano turned 52 while undergoing treatment at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis, one day after the Colts announced that their first-year head coach had been diagnosed with the disease.
"It has been a lot of praying, a lot of crying, a lot of hope," an emotional Sam Pagano, Chuck's father and the former Fairview High School coach, said that day. "I talked to him today and he sounded really good. Today is his birthday. ... He's going to beat it."
At the time, the Paganos didn't want any publicity. They were in shock. They were scared.
Now there are different feelings inside the family home in east Boulder.
Belief. Determination. Even joy.
Sam, his wife Diana, his daughter Jenny and her sons, and longtime friend and former Centaurus coach Bob Carskie gathered last Sunday to watch the Colts play Green Bay on television.
Without Chuck, their leader and inspiration, the underdogs fell behind 21-3 at halftime.
And then something amazing happened.
Straight out of a Hollywood script, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck outplayed reigning NFL most valuable player Aaron Rogers; Indianapolis fought back in the second half for a dramatic 30-27 victory.
"After Sunday, something came over me and I truly think that game was a gift from God," Jenny said. "All I could think of was that my brother was going to be fine, He's going to overcome. ...
"I've never experienced something like that. My mom, my kids, we went from laughter to crying to laughter. It was an incredible feeling."
Jenny encouraged her brother to fight back like his team did.
"I texted Chuck and said, 'Please don't ever give up,'" she said. "His response back was, 'Never!' ...
"He's given me nothing but inspiration and faith. He's a warrior. Something has changed from Sunday."
After a game many NFL fans will never forget, Colts owner Jim Irsay and interim head coach Bruce Arians were overcome with emotion.
Luck touched a ChuckStrong banner in the back of the end zone after delivering the game-winning touchdown drive.
"In my 40 years in this business, I've never been prouder of a team and how they battled back," Irsay told the Indianapolis Star. "I've been in a lot of winning locker rooms, Super Bowl locker rooms, but I've never had an experience like this."
That night Irsay presented Chuck with the game ball.
"We walked in, he got up, we all embraced and shed some tears and Chuck said, 'You know, I don't feel so sick right now.'"
'BIGGER THAN FOOTBALL'
The time for grieving over Chuck's diagnosis was over the moment the celebration in Indianapolis began.
Jenny and her friend, Elizabeth Boedecker, came up with the idea to make ChuckStrong bracelets.
They paid for a large order and sent 100 to the Colts, 100 to the San Diego Chargers (where Chuck's brother John is the defensive coordinator), and 100 to Chuck's wife Tina to hand out at the hospital in Indianapolis.
"We're going to get out as many of them as we can and see if we have an outpouring," Jenny said. "I would like to reach out here in Boulder and and give back in some way. I would say please wear the bracelet in his honor or for someone else."
Locally, anyone interested in the blue ChuckStrong bracelets can contact Jenny at PeachPagano@yahoo.com. She isn't collecting money for them, only encouraging those who wear them to pray and donate to their local leukemia organization if they can.
"Right now it's just the strength you feel when you have people wearing them," Boedecker said. "At first we were like, 'Why Chuck?' And then you kind of see the power of his presence. There's a reason why maybe he's kind of being the face of leukemia right now."
The Colts are selling ChuckStrong T-shirts, posters and orange wristbands with proceeds to be donated for leukemia research. They are also organizing blood drives, game-day collections for the cause, and delivering cards and notes of encouragement from fans directly to Chuck and the Pagano family.
"My brother has become way bigger than football at this point," Jenny said. "I just believe his gift back is going to go way beyond football."
After soaking up his team's victory and all of the support from around the world, Chuck sent an email to the Indianapolis Star.
"I am the luckiest man in the world. I said it when I got this opportunity several months ago and I am repeating it now," Chuck wrote. "The 12th man came through big time, along with the TEAM THAT REFUSED TO LOSE."
'A BOULDER INSTITUTION'
The Paganos are Boulder's first family of football.
Sam won three state titles (1978, 1979 and 1981) at Fairview High School, where his sons Chuck and John played for him before getting into the family X's and O's business.
Jenny organizes the Paganos' Mile High Football Camp, which has been connecting young Colorado players with NFL coaches and players for decades.
Sam's wife, Diana, is the ultimate football mom.
"They're a Boulder institution," said Colorado Buffs defensive coordinator Greg Brown, who has known Chuck and John for over 30 years. "Everybody has heard about that family and the boys' coaching prowess for years. Each and every one of them are special. Chuck in particular is such a tough person, mentally and physically, he can overcome this."
CU head coach Jon Embree, who competed against Sam's Knights as a star player on rival Cherry Creek, is a member of the NFL coaching fraternity after working as an assistant in Kansas City and Washington.
"The Pagano family is a special family," Embree said. "I think the way the NFL is rallying around Chuck is a testament to the kind of person he is. The coaches in the NFL are a close-knit family, and when something like that happens it affects all of them. To see them rally and support him is awesome."
After graduating from Fairview, Chuck played at Wyoming.
In the 1980s, he was a graduate assistant at USC and Miami, the outside linebackers coach at Boise State, and the secondary coach at East Carolina.
In the 1990s, he was an assistant at UNLV, followed by second tours of duty at East Carolina and Miami.
In the 2000s, Pagano advanced to the NFL as the secondary coach at Cleveland (2001-04) and the defensive backs coach at Oakland (2005-06).
After a one-year return to the college level as the defensive coordinator at North Carolina, Pagano received the biggest break of his career when he joined the Baltimore Ravens staff in 2008, first as the secondary coach and then promoted to defensive coordinator last season.
The higher profile the position, the lower a coach feels after losses.
Baltimore was one dropped touchdown pass away from knocking off New England and advancing to the Super Bowl.
"After Chuck lost the AFC Championship game last year, his world was down one night," Jenny said. "And then the next morning the sun comes up and there's a call from Jim Irsay to offer him the Colts job."
Since Chuck left the team for the hospital, the Colts have kept the light on in his office until he returns.
The doctors say that probably won't happen this season. But according to statistics, there is a 90 percent chance of complete remission.
And Luck and a strong family are on Chuck's side.
"We talked about (how) grabbing that Lombardi Trophy someday is going to be that much sweeter when we overcome this," Irsay said.
Right now Chuck Pagano is working with a new motto: Beating the monster.
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