The Chuck Pagano You Didn’t See

Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

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. 

Like what? 

“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.

There wasn’t. 

“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. 

Congratulations, Coach! 

Blue And Friends Team Up With Westfield Fire Department To Spread Christmas Cheer

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!”

This entry was posted in Colts.

I See You, Jacoby

Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

I see you, Jacoby. 

I’ve been watching you all season. 

As you cheered your team from the sideline. 

As you engaged with the players and coaches.

As you took advantage of every opportunity. 

As you led your team on the field and in the community. 

As you embraced the things you’re passionate about. 

As you inspired others to make a difference. 

In a position that would have caused others to shrink, you continued to shine.

You proved that you don’t have to be a starter to be a star. 

And that the best way to be great is to do good.

The Colts’ nominee for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, there’s no one more deserving. 

Congratulations, Jacoby Brissett! 

I see how far you’ve come. 

And I can’t wait to see how far you go. 

This entry was posted in Colts.

It’s Time To Embrace The Philip Rivers Era

Photo: Getty Images

On Thursday night, the Colts beat the Tennessee Titans and took control of the AFC South. 

During the game, Philip Rivers was remarkable – passing for over 300 yards and one touchdown. But in the course of that, Rivers did something even more remarkable – he passed Dan Marino’s 61,361 yards to move into fifth place for total passing yards in the NFL – taking his place behind Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Brett Favre.

These are legends of the game and the longer he plays, the more Rivers establishes himself as such. 

Colts fans are accustomed to seeing greatness at quarterback – so much so, I think we sometimes take it for granted. 

Watching Peyton Manning’s 14-year career followed by Andrew Luck’s seven years (or slightly less due to injury), we were the envy of the NFL. 

But as Peyton said, nothing lasts forever.

It’s not easy to move on and let go of the past, especially years as special as those.

But last night, watching Philip Rivers move into the top five in NFL history got me thinking. 

Every team wants a franchise quarterback –  a guy to grow with, build around, become the face of the team and if you’re lucky, the face of the league.

But until you find Mr. Right, you have to find Mr. Right Now. 

For the Colts, Mr. Right Now is Philip Rivers.

Rivers is a brilliant quarterback, a passionate leader, and a tireless competitor.

More importantly, he’s all in. 

Philip Rivers wants to be in Indianapolis and wants to be a Colt. 

He’s going to give everything he has to his team and its fans. 

And it’s time we show him the same level of commitment. 

Because some day, he’s going to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s going to talk about how special it was to be able to continue to play the game he loves in Indianapolis. And we’re going to look back on it  and think it was pretty special too. 

It’s easy to get caught up in who the next quarterback will be. 

It’s easy to compare your current quarterback to the last one.

Andrew Luck was no Peyton Manning. 

Philip Rivers is no Andrew Luck. 

But Philip Rivers has something Andrew Luck did not (at least at the end of his career) – a burning desire to play football, chase greatness, and leave a legacy in the game he loves.

Colts fans, let’s close that door. 

Andrew Luck isn’t walking through it anyway.

Let’s embrace Philip Rivers for who he is – the right guy for this team right now. 

Let’s get behind him. 

Let’s go on a run. 

Let’s enjoy every minute of this era of Colts football… 

Because when it’s over, I guarantee you we’ll look back on it as special.    

This entry was posted in Colts.

Cash Ballard Gets Dramatic New Look For Friends Fighting Cancer

Two years ago, Cash Ballard walked into a salon with should-length hair and walked out with a short crop, donating his long blonde locks to child cancer patients. 

The youngest son of Colts General Manager Chris Ballard and his wife, Kristin, that was the last time Cash cut his hair.

But with a little prodding from his middle school football coach – this month, he decided to do it again. 

“He bet me if I were to cut it in the next week or two, I’d get to go in at running back for a few plays,” he said.

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – on September 11th, Cash walked into a salon in Carmel and had his long, blonde hair chopped off once again. 

“It makes me super proud to know that he’s helping somebody and that he doesn’t even know he’s helping somebody,” said Kristin Ballard. “He’s not doing it for the publicity or anything like that – but if we can bring awareness to pediatric cancer, we’re all for it.”

Colts guard Quenton Nelson was Cash’s hair inspiration. 

His real inspiration came from the heart – his friends, Cameron Kirk and Mason Garvey. 

Captain Kirk and Mighty Mason became fast friends as they battled child cancer together. 

During that time, the Colts and the Ballard family came into their lives and battled alongside them. 

“We were invited to a Colts game and we were down on the field,” said Cameron’s mom, Carrie Kirk. “I was chatting with this lady who was dressed all in blue and white. I had no idea who she was. She asked me how I was doing and we just chatted about life. It took me a few minutes before I realized who I was talking to. Over the course of time, we’ve developed a friendship. It’s been wonderful.”

The families bonded and so did their kids. 

During one particular outing, Kirk saw something special begin to develop between their sons.   

“We were bowling and Cash and Cameron went to shoot baskets. Basketball was what he was doing when he first got sick. We hadn’t been able to get Cameron to shoot baskets,” she said. “And we saw something in him that we hadn’t seen in a long time – he was trying. Cash was playing with him like he would any other boy – but at the same time, he was being so kind and understanding that Cam couldn’t do things like other boys his age.”

Since then, the two have become buddies – talking, facetiming, and playing video games together.

It’s been a blessing for Cameron and his parents. 

“I prayed for Cash. I didn’t know who it was going to be, but I needed someone to come into Cameron’s life who would really be his friend for who he was,” Kirk said. “He was an athlete before this happened and cancer took that away the last couple years because he physically couldn’t do it. The boys he grew up with didn’t know how to handle that.”

They even changed schools in search of a fresh start for their son.   

“Cam came to us and said, ‘I want to go someplace where the kids don’t know me and they don’t know how I was before I got sick.’” 

In June, Mason lost his battle with rhabdomyosarcoma. For a child with cancer, losing a friend to cancer is particularly traumatic. 

“I know he was worried that he was next. We had lost three friends in a year’s timeframe. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be the last friend we lose,” Kirk said. “It’s tough knowing that I have to have that conversation with all of my kids. It’s a tough one to swallow, but it’s part of our life now.”

One of the only people Cam would talk to about Mason was Cash. 

“Those boys have been there for each other and they’ve had conversations about their faith and things you don’t normally hear two 13-year-old boys talk about,” she said. “I think that’s why he and Cameron get along so well – because they are two old souls.”

Cancer doesn’t just affect the patient.

Grin&Barrett Photography

“It changes your whole family,” said Kirk. “We don’t want people to understand how we feel. Because if they understand, that means they’re going through it.” 

“The thing I always tell them is, ‘I can’t understand what you’re going through, but I can be there for you,’” Ballard said. “I think about them constantly. I want to be there for them and help them. Their strength is beyond anything I could ever imagine.”

Cam celebrated the start of Child Cancer Awareness Month with his last chemotherapy treatment.

“It was pretty awesome that it turned out that way,” Kirk said. “That just happened to be when his chemo calendar ended.”

Now, Cam can work on being a kid again while Cash works on growing out his hair.

Two years from now, he should be ready to donate it again. And he hopes his football idol, Quenton Nelson, will join him.  

“He told me he was going to grow his hair out like mine and then he didn’t. I’m kind of disappointed in him,” he joked.

For Cash, a new look was no big deal –  but to Cam, it meant everything. 

“It meant a lot to Cameron,” Kirk said. “And I know Cam’s not the only kid with cancer that’s going to mean a lot to.”

This entry was posted in Colts.