Well, it looks like miracles really do happen. As I'm sure all NFL fans know by now, Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 26, three days after the Colts lost at home to the Jaguars of Jacksonville.
That game on Sept. 23 was the last time Pagano was on the sidelines in a coaching capacity and he has since undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy and it was announced on Nov. 5 that the cancer was in "complete remission," according to Dr. Larry Cripe. Now, as of Thursday, Cripe has taken that declaration one step further in clearing Pagano to return to the sidelines whenever he feels ready.
Cripe and Pagano's personal physician said he will be allowed to return to his position whenever he and the Colts organization want him to do so. Some say that could be as soon as Dec. 30, when the Colts take on Houston in the regular-season finale on Dec. 30.
Since Pagano left the field to begin his treatment, there has been a buzz all around the NFL and the sports world in general, with people everywhere coming together in support of his recovery efforts. Since the diagnosis, Pagano's Colts have used their coach's illness as a motivator, rather than the excuse to play poorly and have another dismal season like last year's 2-14 debacle, and now, the Colts are just one win away from tying the NFL record for wins following a midseason coaching change and becoming just the fourth team in league history to win 10 games the season after winning two or fewer.
And on top of that, the Colts have won eight of 11 games and quarterback Andrew Luck has gone from a confused rookie still trying to find his place to the all-time rookie leader in fourth-quarter comebacks with six, victories by a No. 1 overall draft choice in the modern era (nine), and yards passing in one game (433). He needs 26 attempts, 47 completions and 74 yards passing to break the NFL's single-season rookie records in all three categories.
He still has an outside chance of catching Peyton Manning's rookie record for TD passes (28). Luck is currently 308-for-564 for 3,978 yards with 20 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has been filling in as head coach in Pagano's absence and has spent the whole time crediting the illness for making it all possible.
"They found a reason to play and when a team finds a reason to play, they'll overcome some things," Arians told ESPN. "Chuck's illness took everybody, even strangers that we would bring off the street on Wednesday and we'd play on Sunday, and they'd fight their tails off. When you have guys playing hard for 60 minutes, you're going to win some games because most teams in this league don't play hard for 60 minutes."
On top of that, the Colts have spent all season rallying around Pagano with numerous tributes like the Chuckstrong mantra, as well as a number of other tributes. Talk about a reason to fight.
Given my own medical issues, I know what it means to have a reason to keep fighting, even when things seem as bleak as it gets. Simply having something to fight for can help just as much as modern medicine, sometimes.
Obviously, I don't know what's been going on behind closed doors during Pagano's recovery, but when even doctors are baffled by a person's recovery, I know there must be something else at work. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, this is a pretty amazing deal.
I'm not going to sit here and say modern medicine isn't what fixed this because it obviously is, but I can say from experience that simply having a reason to keep fighting helps, too.
I'm not in Pagano's head, so I don't know his take on the whole return thing, but I do think he should do what he thinks is best for him. If he thinks he can come back this year and be effective, great. If not, then he shouldn't do it.
Either way, he and everybody involved have a lot to be happy about when it comes to everything related to this situation and I think it's pretty awesome that he's made such a complete and speedy recovery.