I think you’ll like it here. Hoosiers are known for their hospitality. We’re kinder and more forgiving than the fans in Philly. Then again, so is a pack of hungry wolves.
Like you, we’ve had our ups and downs.
You probably heard that our quarterback, Andrew Luck, retired. Then, we got Philip Rivers – and he retired too.
Please don’t retire on us. At least, not anytime soon.
As you settle in Indianapolis, there are a few things I thought you should know.
The more you embrace Indy, the more Indy embraces you.
This is a great city, get to know it. There’s nothing Hoosiers love more than someone who understands them and the things that are important to them. We’ll like you for the things you do on the field, but we’ll love you for the things you do off the field.
We don’t expect you to be Peyton Manning. We don’t expect you to be Andrew Luck. We don’t expect you to be Philip Rivers or anyone else, for that matter.
Let go of the past.
I don’t know what happened in Philly and honestly, I don’t really care. This is an opportunity for you to restart your career, reframe your mindset, and rewrite your story.
It’s also an opportunity for us – to let go of our past, embrace our present, and look toward our future.
You are our future.
As soon as you put that blue jersey on, you become one of us. You’re family now and we have your back. More importantly, so does Quenton Nelson.
We look forward to getting to know you, embracing what matters to you, and making memories with you.
When Philip Rivers arrived in Indianapolis, he was a quarterback. But he wasn’t my quarterback.
He was a Charger in a Colts uniform.
He was the guy who always seemed to beat the Colts in big games – even when they had the better team.
He was the guy with the fiery attitude on the field, who I always heard was a really nice guy off the field.
It took weeks for Rivers to start to feel like a Colt and it took even longer for him to feel like my quarterback.
But once he did, there was no looking back.
Suddenly, his fiery demeanor didn’t rub me the wrong way – if anything, it fired me up. And it seemed to do the same for his teammates.
Suddenly, his clean-mouthed trash talk wasn’t annoying – it was part of his charm.
Suddenly, Philip Rivers wasn’t the quarterback I hated. He was the quarterback I loved.
Then, I realized something else – I hadn’t thought about Andrew Luck at all.
Not what he was doing.
Not what he was thinking.
Not even what the Colts would look like with this running game, this defense, this offensive line, and him lined up behind it.
I know it sounds a little pathetic, but let’s be honest. When Andrew Luck walked away, he took the hopes and dreams for the future of our team with him – at least for a while.
When Philip Rivers put on a Colts jersey and stepped on the field, he did something much bigger than throw touchdown passes.
In his competitive, folksy, trash-talking way, Philip Rivers made us believe again.
And for that, I’ll always be grateful.
Thank you, Philip Rivers, for demonstrating what it means to be a professional. For being the most competitive guy on the field every week. For never giving up. For instilling your fire in everyone around you. And for playing your heart out week after week.
As you begin the next chapter of your football career as a high school coach, I can’t imagine a better person to inspire the next generation of players – just as you did our team, our fans, and our city.
Though your chapter in Indianapolis was short, your legacy reaches far and wide.
The first time I met Chuck Pagano was at training camp at Anderson University.
I had recently started blogging for the Colts and the PR staff introduced me to him at the end of his media session.
“Nice to meet you, Heather,” he said. “Anything we can do for you?”
I was kind of taken aback.
“Well, I’ve spent the last few years writing for myself. Now, I’m writing for the Colts. I think I’m good,” I laughed.
The next morning, I was walking along the chainlink fence from the parking lot to the media trailer while the players and coaches were finishing their morning practice.
“Good morning, Heather,” I heard Coach Pagano yell from the field.
Surely, he wasn’t talking to me.
I turned my head around to see if there was someone walking behind me.
“Morning, Coach,” I yelled back.
After practice one day, he pulled up alongside me in his golf cart and asked me if I wanted a ride.
I hopped in next to him and as we made our way back to the media tent, he asked me a question.
“So, how are the guys treating you?”
“They’re great,” I responded, honestly. “They’re polite, respectful, and a joy to be around.”
“That’s great to hear,” he said. “Let me know if anyone ever gives you trouble.”
I was confident I wouldn’t have to – and I didn’t. But I knew why he was asking. As a father of three daughters, he actually cared.
After that first training camp, I knew everything I needed to know about Chuck Pagano. He was kind. He was caring. He was sincere. And he had my back.
That never changed.
Chuck always took time to stop and say hi. When he asked you how you were doing, he actually wanted to know.
When he cracked a joke during his press conference, he’d look my way because he knew I’d laugh. And I did – because I had his back too.
Before games, he always had special guests on the field and he always took time to greet them and share some words of encouragement.
Whether he was fighting cancer or battling an opponent on the field, Chuck Pagano was always the same guy. Led by unwavering faith, boundless optimism, and steadfast determination, he inspired everyone around him to be better.
Over the years, I got to know some of his family members – his wife, Tina and his dad, Sam. They’re just as warm, friendly, and personable.
When Sam showed up at training camp, it was like visiting with one of your own relatives. He had stories about everyone and everything. He’d sit around, chew on his cigar, and tell them to anyone who would listen.
Tina is a coach’s wife who reads too much, listens too much, and worries too much – all because she cares too much. Just like her husband, she has a way of making everyone around her feel special and appreciated. Even during the most stressful times, Tina always greeted me with a smile and a hug.
I remember watching her in the tunnel after Chuck’s last game coaching the Colts. It wasn’t official, but we all knew it was coming. The picture of grace, she stood in the hallway smiling and talking to everyone while I knew it was tearing her up. The ultimate coach’s wife, she was by his side – win or lose – until the end.
Earlier this week, Chuck announced he was retiring. As happy as I am for him, I’m equally happy for Tina. A pillar of strength and support, I’m glad she gets to enjoy life with her husband without worrying about wins and losses.
There are many fine men in the National Football League, but you’d be hard pressed to find one better than Chuck Pagano. Nothing reinforces that like the messages from the players he coached over the years.
A leader of men.
A lover of life.
A legacy of giving back to the game he loves.
Chuck Pagano is walking away from coaching.
But the seeds he planted in others will continue to grow for years to come.
One at a time, they pulled into the empty bay at the Westfield Fire Department.
Masks hid their faces, but their eyes told a story.
Some were down on their luck.
Some were down on love.
Some were down on both.
But for 15 minutes on Saturday, they were embraced by the spirit of Christmas – the spirit of kindness, the spirit of giving, the spirit of love.
They were serenaded on the way in.
“We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year…”
As Colts mascot, Blue, entertained them, his elves got to work – filling the car with presents for every member of the family.
Some wishes were small – a teapot, a blanket, some towels.
Other wishes were big – the Westfield Fire Department followed one family home with a dryer.
But they all came from a similar place – a desperate parent trying to provide for their family.
“My wife and I have been together for 16 years, but this is the first year where it’s just my income coming in,” said one father. “These people have made Christmas possible for my family. I’m touched.”
“It’s beautiful, it really is,” said one mother. “I’m so grateful.”
Not just for the gifts, but for the message wrapped up inside them.
“That people don’t have to be your family to be compassionate and care for one another,” said another mother. “If more people were like this, the world would be a much better place.”
For the fifth year, Blue gathered with family and friends to bring Christmas to Hoosier families in need.
For Trey Mock, the man behind Blue, it’s become a beloved family tradition.
But like so many other things – this year, they wondered if it would happen.
“Not because we didn’t want to do it,” he said. “It was more how were we going to do it.”
In the end, they decided to do what so many others have done – and find a way.
“We needed to lift everybody’s spirits,” said his wife, Alison. “We had to be able to bring these families some happiness and joy, something to look forward to.”
A chance encounter led them to how.
“One of our dogs had snuck out of our house,” said Trey. “I got a phone call and it was the Westfield Police Department saying, ‘We have Sasha.’”
He returned the favor by showing up at their Halloween drive-thru as Blue. While he was there, he asked if they knew of a place where he could host a Christmas drive-thru.
They suggested Firehouse 83 in Westfield.
Hosting a Westfield family that wanted to give back to other families, some of them from Westfield – it was a perfect pairing.
“These people are the ones that are paying our wages here and this is part of our service – giving back,” said Battalion Chief Tom Cline. “We always try to give back to the people that give to us. That makes us a big, happy community and it makes us a big, happy family.”
Now, they’re part of Blue’s family.
“We want to get even more involved,” Cline said. “I think we’re going to team up from this point forward.”
It may have looked different this year, but what it lacked in contact, it made up for in meaning.
“This year has been tough because we’re used to socializing. For eight months now, we have’t been able to do that,” said Trey. “It’s hard to communicate with people and see people’s expressions through masks. But this connection of getting to know people so deeply through their needs and wants for Christmas, then helping to deliver that – it kind of renews that spirit.”
Seeing the spirit grow in their children, Gunnar and Tegan, warms their parents’ hearts.
“It took me so long in my life to realize the importance of helping others and using my platform to help others,” Trey said. “And to know that a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old are seeing that and living that, it really makes me a proud parent.”
“We want them to know it’s better to give than receive and that’s what this time of year is all about,” Alison said. “I just want them to grow up with a servant heart.”
In a year that was mostly about distancing, bringing people together was a gift itself.
“I feel like not only the families, but those of us who participate in this – we needed it more than ever,” said Samantha Humes. “To still find a way to come together and make it work and bring some happiness to people and to ourselves – that’s really meaningful.”
“It’s one of those feelings that you can’t quite describe,” said Barbara Humes. “They’re touched, because you can see their tears. But if they only knew how much it meant to the rest of us – it means just as much to us.”
With their cars full of gifts and their hearts full of gratitude, a chorus of merry Christmases followed each family out.
And as each car drove out of sight, young Tegan Mock exclaimed, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”