Frank Capra would take one look at a script for the Colts 2012 season and say, “Nah, too far-fetched. An audience would never buy this story.” And yet the Colts have produced in real life a story that would have sounded utterly ridiculous had you sketched it out at the beginning of training camp.
Like “It’s a Wonderful Life” the Colts 2012 highlight film starts with an ominous beginning and moves through what could have been tragedy toward a story-book ending. But instead of George Bailey being helped out by an angel named Clarence, the Colts version has Bruce Arians, a career NFL assistant coach, being helped out week after week by a rookie named Andrew trying to earn his wings as an NFL quarterback.
When the Colts jettisoned over half their roster last off-season and hired a new general manager, Ryan Grigson, with no previous experience in the position, everyone wrote off 2012 as a necessary growing pain. You don’t overhaul your roster like that in the NFL, especially while being severely limited by the salary cap. You certainly don’t do it while breaking in a rookie quarterback, succeeding a legend, playing behind an offensive line anchored by a second year pro that hadn’t played a down together. And you don’t do it with a new coaching staff, headed by a coach, who like Grigson, had no experience at the position. If the Colts equaled their 2-14 mark of 2011, no one would be surprised.
But Grigson and his front office elves assembled a roster of cast-offs like Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski and players trying to recreate their careers like Donnie Avery. He sprinkled a Jerrell Freeman, who was a force north of the border, but hadn’t done anything to make the NFL take notice. In April, he added a draft class that would produce five starters out of 10 picks.
Then he handed all these parts over to Chuck Pagano, Bruce Arians and Greg Manusky to see what they could make of them. Things looked promising in the preseason. The quarterback, Andrew Luck, amazingly began his career with a touchdown pass, just like the legend he was following. “He could be pretty decent,” everyone thought. “Maybe they’ll win six or seven this year.”
Then in week one the Chicago Bears introduced this motley assortment to the NFL. There was a lot of work to do. They beat the Vikings at home, but the Vikings were about as bad as the Colts were last year, so that couldn’t be counted as a great win. Then right before the bye, the Jacksonville Jaguars came to Lucas Oil Stadium and broke the Colts’ hearts with an 80 yard slant route to win the game right before time expired.
The young Colts were 1-2 heading into the bye week with the Green Bay Packers waiting on the other side. Things couldn’t be much worse. That was before Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia.
Bruce Arians was introduced in an emotional news conference where Jim Irsay broke the news to the public. The Colts’ new head coach wouldn’t be fighting for wins. He was fighting for his life.
Suddenly football seemed an afterthought. The Packers were still coming in and with all the distractions surrounding Pagano, the Colts would be lucky to stay within four touchdowns.
In the first half, it looked like that would happen. The Colts headed to the locker room trailing 21-3. The only question was whether or not Arians could prevent the game from becoming a total rout.
It was at this moment, in that locker room, that Capra began writing the Colts’ script. Instead of limping home for the final 30 minutes and being 1-3, ChuckStrong was born. The Colts rallied with the spirit of their stricken coach and erased the Packers lead, emerging with a 30-27 victory.
From there the Colts won eight of their 11 games. All but one of those wins came by a score or less. Several games seemed lost, but the Colts dug deep, finding a mysterious strength and found a way to win.
Sunday’s win in Kansas City was just another part of this amazing story. The offense struggled. The defense was yielding huge chunks of yardage on the ground. Yet when the final gun sounded, there were the Colts, victorious and proud owners of the fifth seed in the NFL playoffs.
If the story ended there, we would all watch the credits roll and go home having enjoyed a wonderful show. But that’s not all. These Colts aren’t finished writing their story.
Chuck Pagano will return to work this week. He’s finished with his chemotherapy and declared fit to come back by his doctors. He’s won the battle for his life against leukemia. Now he will be on the sideline this week when the Colts meet the Texans in the season finale.
More importantly, he’ll be on the sidelines when the Colts take the field, most likely in Pagano’s (and the Colts’) old home of Baltimore in two weeks.
Whether they can continue to write additional chapters after that remains to be seen, but what they’ve come up with so far is nothing short of a miracle.
Yes, Colts fans, your team is in the playoffs. Believe.
Chuck Chapman is entering his second season as the editor and lead writer for Colts 101. He also covered the Cincinnati Bengals for the Sports Media 101. Chuck and his family are originally from Ohio, but have settled in Central Indiana and become big Colts fans. You can read Chuck’s other writing about the Colts at www.colts101.com.
Tags: Andrew Luck, bruce arians, chuck pagano, ryan grigson
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