From the moment that the Indianapolis Colts announced that head coach Chuck Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia back in October, the team and city rallied around him and his team. Whether it was Colts players shaving their heads in solidarity with their coach as he underwent chemotherapy or a class of third graders from Cardinal Elementary in Brownsburg, Ind. sending letters, each week seemed to produce another chapter in the #Chuckstrong narrative that was fast becoming one of the most compelling stories of the 2012 NFL season.
With Pagano back with the team, his cancer in remission and his team on the eve of a playoff game, the 52-year-old coach, who is in his first season with the franchise, shared his gratitude in an open letter to "The people of Indiana" published in The Indianpolis Star.
I knew Indy had great fans, but I might have underestimated just how great. Being new to the community I never expected the outpouring of support I received from Colts fans throughout the state and country. The love and support you showed my family and me gave me a tremendous amount of comfort and peace.
CLICK HERE to read full letter published in The Indianapolis Star (via USA Today).
Pagano's playoff debut with the Colts will come in front of another fan base with whom he has a strong bond. Pagano returns to Baltimore, where he was the defensive coordinator before accepting the head coaching job with the Colts. Pagano's former players know that they're up against a team riding an emotional wave that has carried them quite far already this season.
"We know they're playing for something outside of football, sometimes you live for something outside of football," Ravens cornerback Cary Williams told The Baltimore Sun. "For those guys to be behind him, here's a guy who's going to fight every week. He's dealing with some things and their team wasn't even predicted to be in the playoffs. For those guys to overcome the odds the way their head coach has done it's awesome, but we got to handle our business. Business as usual."
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*All captions via The Associated Press