CHUCK PAGANO didn’t have to say a word.
A coach walks into the locker room while fighting leukemia, his presence speaks volumes. But what Pagano told his Indianapolis Colts after they defeated the Dolphins on Sunday will be replayed for years.
The best pro football speeches are like that. They’re about football. They’re about life.
1. Gale Sayers: Love Brian Piccolo
The setting: It happened in real life in 1970 and in perhaps the most famous TV movie made, “Brian’s Song,” a year later. The story of Brian Piccolo’s death at age 26 from cancer was so wrenching, it required no Hollywood embellishment. With Piccolo hospitalized, Sayers was in New York to receive the George S. Halas Award for Courage for his comeback from a serious knee injury.
Quote: “You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you here and now I accept it for Brian Piccolo,” Sayers said. “Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas Award. I’ll accept it tonight but I’ll present it to Brian tomorrow. I love Brian Piccolo. And I’d like all of you to love him, too. And tonight when you hit your knees, ask God to love him, too.”
A month later, Piccolo died. His name adorns the field of his alma mater, Central Catholic High, later renamed St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
2. Chuck Pagano: Living for the future
The setting: The Colts’ victory against the Dolphins on Sunday.
Quote: “I’ve got circumstances. I understand it. You understand it. It’s already beat. … My vision, I’m living to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and hoist the Lombardi Trophy several times.”
3. Ray Lewis: Leave your legacy
The setting: The Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker is a jolt of YouTube caffeine. Search him and you’ll see him fire up Stanford’s basketball team, Loyola Maryland’s lacrosse team — and even “Madden NFL 13” gamers.
Quote: After the Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs by New England in January, Lewis said, “The fact is, we’ve got to come back and go to work, to make sure we finish it the next time. That’s all we’ve got to do. Don’t ever — DON’T EVER — drop your head when you’re coming to a loss, dog, ’cause there’s too much pain outside of this, that people are really going through. This right here makes us stronger. Let’s understand who were are as a team. Let’s understand who we are as men. And let’s make somebody smile when we walk out of here.”
4. Sean Payton: Friday night heights
The setting: Payton, currently suspended from coaching the Saints, addressed his old high school team, Naperville Central outside of Chicago, in 2009. The footage was featured in Kenny Chesney’s video, “The Boys of Fall.”
Quote: “Twenty-seven years ago, I sat in this locker room just like you guys, on a knee, gettin’ ready to play a game,” Payton said. “I would give anything tonight to jump in one of these uniforms with you guys. That feeling comes when you get married, and it comes when your child is born. So you get it, but you just don’t get it every Friday night. You’ve got plenty of time for tomorrow, but these tonights, they’re going by fast.”