Chuck Pagano Puts Feel Good Ending On Tough Colts Season

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Photo: Indianapolis Colts

So many things could have happened. But in the end, the right thing happened.

The Colts chose to bring back head coach Chuck Pagano. And the players and fans rejoiced. Because Chuck Pagano is more to Indianapolis than a football coach. Chuck Pagano is a fighter, a cancer survivor, a winner. Chuck Pagano is a Hoosier. And now, with a new contract, he’ll be a Hoosier for four more years.

Calling it, “Absolutely the best day of my life,” it was a feel good end to a season that felt at times like it would never end. Once it did (at 8-8) and amid speculation about his future, players and fans rallied in support of Pagano, launching a #ChuckStay campaign on social media.

When Black Monday began, it felt like it was a foregone conclusion that he would be gone. But as the day went on, a glimmer of hope appeared. And it got brighter by the hour. Just like Chuck Pagano fought for his life, he fought for job. And he won.

Why do people feel so strongly about Chuck Pagano?

Let me tell you a story.

The first time I met Coach Pagano was at training camp a few months after I started working with the Colts. Communications director Avis Roper introduced me to him because he doesn’t like to see a face without having a name to go with it. Pagano didn’t just shake my hand. He asked me how I was and if there was anything he could do for me. Stunned, I said, “I’m a blogger who’s writing for the Colts. I think I’m good.”

A few days later, he saw me walking from the parking lot up to the practice field and from the other side of the chain link fence, he yelled, “Hey, Heather!”

It was true. Once Chuck Pagano knows your name, he never forgets it. It’s like a magical super power. He’s known for it.

Chuck Pagano makes everyone feel important. Because everyone is important to Chuck Pagano.

A few days after that, I was walking from practice back to the media trailer and he pulled up in his golf cart. “You want a ride?” he said. I accepted.

We chatted for a bit and then he asked me a question.

“How are the guys treating you?”

“Great,” I said, slightly surprised. “Polite, respectful, they couldn’t be better. In fact,” I told him, “I can honestly tell you there’s not one guy on this team that I don’t like.”

“Good,” he responded. “That’s what I like to hear.”

It’s easy to ask someone how they’re doing. But he didn’t ask me that. Chuck Pagano had a real question for me and he wanted a real answer. Because he really cared.

And suddenly, I understood why the players love him, why they support him, and why before he hired him, General Manager Ryan Grigson said they would run through a brick wall for him.

Because at that moment, I would have too.

There are so many times in life when you can choose to walk away or stay and work it out. The Colts chose to keep Pagano and Grigson. To work things out. And to move forward as a family. And I couldn’t be prouder of them for doing it.

Life is complicated and messy. And so is sports.

But sometimes, it’s in the mess that you find what you’ve been looking for all along.

Moving On From Manning

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Any time former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis, it’s a big deal. And a big game. And Sunday afternoon was no different.

But amidst a stalled Colts offense, a newly installed offensive coordinator, a struggling quarterback, and a general lack of cohesion, I had no idea what to expect when the Colts hosted the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Because that’s just how this season has been. Unpredictable. From one game to the next, from one quarter to the next, from one play to the next…

In fact, I was so wrapped up in the issues facing the Colts and Andrew Luck, that I didn’t really have time to get nostalgic about the return of my former quarterback.

Even once I got to the game, I noticed the media gathered on the field, anxiously awaiting Peyton Manning’s entrance. But it was them waiting on him, not me. I was worried about my guys. My team. My quarterback.

When the game started, it was clear right away that this was not the Colts offense that we had been watching for most of this season. They were spread out, they were loose, they had some swagger, and they were working.

The defense stepped up, as they have so many times this season, and made big plays. Darius Butler had a big interception. Kendall Langford had a big sack on Peyton Manning. And this time, I didn’t even cringe.

The Colts had their mojo back. Andrew Luck had his smile back. And I had my team back.

Peyton Manning’s second homecoming ended much like the first. The Colts sent him and the Broncos home with their first loss of the season.

As we were walking to the car, my husband said, “Well, it’s too bad we couldn’t see Peyton break the NFL record for passing yards here.”

Without even thinking, I replied, “I didn’t even want him to. Let him break it back in Denver. He’s somebody else’s quarterback now.”

And a few steps later, it hit me.

Three and a half seasons removed from one of the biggest breakups in sports history and the football love of my life, years of feeling sick and torn and unsettled about it. And suddenly, without even knowing it, I had finally moved on.

Peyton Manning is somebody else’s quarterback now.

I’ve said it many times.

But on Sunday night, for the first time – I actually believed it.

Why Reggie Wayne As a Patriot Breaks My Heart

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Photos: Matt Bowen/Indianapolis Colts

There are a few different kinds of breakups. I can tell you this, because I’ve had all of them at some point in my life.

There’s the Already Over You breakup, where you break up with someone and it’s so amicable, you actually hope they start dating someone right away. If nothing else, to make you feel better. You start picturing people you know would be good for them and setting them up in your head (or in real life). That’s how over it you are.

Then, there’s the Never Want to See You Again breakup. This one is less amicable. In this case, you already feel bad for the people who might date this person in the future, and you want to warn them. Not only do you want to get away from them, you want everyone else to stay away from them – for their own good.

But there’s also a more complicated breakup. It’s the breakup you don’t want, but you know is the best thing for you. And not only do you not want that person to date anyone else, but the mere thought of it kind of sickens you. The This Isn’t Working, But I’m Not Ready to Move On and I’m Sure as Hell Not Ready for You to Move On breakup is the hardest kind there is. And the only thing that could make it harder, would be that person moving on…with your archenemy.

And that is exactly what just happened to Colts fans with Reggie Wayne.

The writing was on the wall last season. Reggie had lost a step (or three). Injuries nagged him and the game started to surpass him. There were younger players waiting on the sideline. And it became all too obvious what the Colts needed to do.

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We wanted the fairy tale ending. We wanted Reggie to play for only one team, to retire a Colt, to be inducted into the Ring of Honor immediately, and the Hall of Fame eventually, and to live happily ever after.

And that’s what Reggie wanted too – just not right now.

And therein lies the problem. Like so many other relationships, it all came down to timing.

The Colts moved on with someone younger.

And now, Reggie has decided to move on…with someone no one likes (who also has a history of cheating).

The truth is, if we didn’t love and care about him, we wouldn’t care where he went, what he did, or who he did it with. But we do.

Life is hard. Love is hard. Football is hard.

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And saying goodbye before you’re ready is the hardest thing of all.

But a girl can still hope for a fairy tale ending.

And for Reggie Wayne, it’s worth the wait.

Indy 500 is America at its Best

Balloon release prior to the start of the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 2015

Balloon release prior to start of 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 2015

It’s incredibly fitting that the day after the Indianapolis 500 is Memorial Day. Not because it’s a good day for a barbecue. And not because it’s a day to relax after a long month of festivities. But because the Indy 500 is all about the American spirit.

Courage, toughness, focus, and drive are what it takes to race a car 500 miles at high speeds, in changing conditions, and despite unpredictable circumstances. The drivers put everything on the line – and do so knowing the price they pay could be injury, disability, even death.

That possibility became all too real this month when rocket-propelled cars actually began to take flight. A few close calls, including one, which could have cost driver James Hinchcliffe his life, left some questioning whether IndyCar had become too dangerous for its own good.

When asked about safety by ABC News, 2014 Indy 500 champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was quick to point out the history of the track, which was built as a proving ground for automobiles and has continued to break new ground ever since.

“At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in IndyCars, it’s long been the case that pushing the limits of speed and boundaries, always pushing the envelope, it comes with some risk. It comes with the dangerous side of it,” he said. “The crashes have been a part of pushing that envelope at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since the early 1900s.”

Since Carl Fisher had a vision and together with his partners James Allison, Arthur Newby, and Frank Wheeler, built a dirt track, paved it with bricks, gave birth to the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and turned it into the most iconic racetrack in the world.

As three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves told ESPN, destiny and desire are part of it, but success at IMS is mostly about something else.

“It’s about respect. When you pay respect, the place will pay you back.”

-Helio Castroneves on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

So much of the Indianapolis 500 is about paying respect. To the track, the sport, the history, and the men and women who fought to make it all possible.

It’s a story of risk versus reward, speed versus strategy, and science versus technology.

But it’s also a story of the American dream.

And those who died so we could live it.

God bless them.

God bless the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

And God bless America.

Indy 500 Media Day at IMS

Troy Lee of Troy Lee Designs has been painting custom helmets “for the world’s fastest racers” for 33 years. He says he was thrilled to do the artwork for the Indy 500 and Grand Prix programs this year.

Troy Lee of Troy Lee Designs has been painting custom helmets “For the World’s Fastest Racers” for 33 years. He says he was thrilled to do the artwork for the Indy 500 and Grand Prix programs this year.

Media day for the Indianapolis 500 is always fun. You get to chat with the drivers about anything you want. And it proves to be pretty entertaining, especially if you’re not asking about racing strategy or downforce.

I share with you, my favorite moments from this year…

Gabby Chaves on driving Dan Wheldon’s 2011 Indy 500 winning car:

“I met Dan when I was 12 years old, racing in a Go Kart race. And what a great guy, one of my idols, one of my racing heroes for sure. And to drive the team that he drove with and carry the same number (98) he took to his victory, it’s very special.”

Alex Tagliani on how life has changed after he and wife Bronte welcomed baby girl Eva Rose into the family:

“I know one thing that changed and I realized it very early, is when I come home and there’s a bit of stress and there’s a bit of commotion or there’s unknown, I don’t feel as flustered or as disappointed as before. Before, my world was ending if something was wrong in the world of racing. Now, you go home and as soon as I see her face, it just clicks.” (Me: “You can turn everything off?”) “Yes.”

Tagliani followed up with, “I like it. If I knew that it was going to make me that way, I would have had kids earlier in my career.”

Conor Daly on feeling the love from Indy:

“For sure. Anywhere you go during the month of May, I think people know what’s going on, so it’s a lot of fun being here. I love this town. I love Indy. I love this race. So, to get to share it with a bunch of people from here also is pretty cool.”

I asked pole winner Scott Dixon and Bryan Clauson, who qualified number 33, who’s happier on Indy 500 Pole Day, the guy at number one or the guy at number 33. Both agreed, it’s close.

Target Chip Ganassi driver and Indy 500 pole winner Scott Dixon

Target Chip Ganassi driver and Indy 500 pole winner Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon: “I would say the common occurrence there is probably the sense of relief. One, that you’re going to capture the pole and two, you’re going to be in the race.”

Bryan Clauson: “His payday was probably a little better than mine.”

And on his dog (she has more than 3,000 followers on Twitter), who Clauson calls more famous than him: “She’s awesome. Chevy. She’s great. Best thing I ever did was get a dog. She doesn’t care that I qualified 33rd.”

Before qualifying, I asked James Hinchcliffe if he ever saw himself driving a No. 12 Flat12 Bierwerks car (the company that brews his Hinchtown Hammerdown beer). He said he’d have to take it up with Will Power.

Team Penske driver and 2014 IndyCar Champion Will Power

Team Penske driver and 2014 IndyCar Champion Will Power

Here’s Power’s response:

“I would most definitely give up No. 12 if I could drive the No. 1 car for the rest of my career.”

I wanted to ask James Hinchcliffe if it was intimidating to have a teammate who’s a model. But since he’s still recovering from his accident, I asked James Jakes what he thought Hinch would say.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver (and former model) James Jakes

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver (and former model) James Jakes

Jakes said, “He’d probably come up with something like, ‘Well if he’s a model, there’s hope for all of us.’” Who says models don’t have a sense of humor?

Sebastian Saavedra on what he puts in his hair:

“What I don’t put in my hair, actually,” he joked. “It depends on the kind of the day. If it’s race day, I use something different to hold a little bit more with moisture and humidity. If it’s a gala day, I try to go a little bit more fancy, try to get less shiny, more natural. So, I have my weapons around.”

Team Ganassi driver and future hair model Sebastian Saavedra

Team Ganassi driver (and future hair model) Sebastian Saavedra

I asked him what brand he prefers. “Actually, Sebastian,” Saavedra responded (obviously). “He’s not my sponsor. I’m like, dude. I have hair. You have my name. It’s the best connection ever.”

Plus, the guy can race 500 miles in a helmet, whip it off, and still have great hair. Paul Sebastian, what are you waiting for? Get. On. That.

Charlie Kimball, who was accepted to Stanford, but pursued racing instead. I joked that had he gone to Stanford, there’s a pretty good chance he’d be playing for the Colts. He responded, “Well, I was never much of an athlete until I got in a car. I’m much better with 600 horsepower under my right foot, than trying to put horsepower to the ground through my own two feet.”

But seeing as his dad, grandmother, and grandfather all went to Stanford, Kimball says Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, and Griff Whalen still welcome him as Cardinal family.

“They’re really good guys and I’ve enjoyed getting to be friends with them. I’m really impressed with how they handle the size of what they do.”

Graham Rahal on whether he expects to see David Letterman around more now that he’s retired: “I hope we do because I know how passionate he is about this. The key, I think for him, is to get Harry (his son) more into this. So it can become more of a father-son sort of thing. And if that can happen, then I think you’d see him all the time.”

And then there’s this nugget…

A lifelong Ohio State fan, I asked Rahal how he felt watching the Buckeyes win the College Football Championship. “We were at the game, like a month after we got engaged,” he said. “And I told her (fiancée Courtney Force) that ‘this was the best day of my life.’ And I don’t think she found it too humorous.”

Justin Wilson on being a tall guy in a small guy’s sport:

“I feel like the odd man out. It’s tough. The cars are small. They definitely work better with shorter guys who carry less weight.”

At 6'3", Team Andretti driver Justin Wilson is the tallest driver in the IndyCar series

At 6’3″, Team Andretti driver Justin Wilson is the tallest in the IndyCar series

Me: “Is there any advantage?”

Wilson: “I don’t think so. You do stand out in the drivers photo.”

Sage Karam on attracting more female racing fans: .

”There’s a few good looking guys in the series right now. So, that’s definitely a plus. You’ve got to market those guys. And I think we’ve got to start targeting the millennial generation and we’ve got to start using more of the popular millennial generation people. You’ve got to get girls like Taylor Swift to come perform at a track. Even if people aren’t coming for the race, they’re coming to see Taylor Swift. All the sudden, they see a car, they see the speed, they hear the noise, and they see a good looking driver and they go tell their friends, post a picture on Instagram, and there you go, it’s blowing up!”

Note to IMS President Doug Boles: Taylor Swift sings at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Hopefully, she won’t be singing about Sage Karam.

Because…awkward.