INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano stepped to the podium Monday, hugged his team owner, thanked his family for its support and wiped a tear from his eye.
He might, finally, turn out the lights in his office, too.
Nearly three months to the day after being diagnosed with leukemia, the Colts’ first-year coach returned to a team eager to reunite with a boss healthy enough to go back to work.
“I told you my best day of my life was July 1, 1989,” Pagano said, referring to his wedding date. “Today was No. 2. Getting to pull up, drive in, get out of my car, the key fob still worked. I was beginning to question whether it would or not.
“When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Damn Bruce, you had to go and win nine games? Tough act to follow. Tough act to follow. Best in the history of the NFL. That’s what I have to come back to.”
The comment turned tears into the laughter everyone expected on such a festive occasion.
In his absence, all the Colts was win nine of 12 games, make a historic turnaround and clinch a playoff spot all before Sunday’s regular-season finale against Houston, which they pegged as the day they hoped to have Pagano back. If all goes well at practice this week, Pagano will be on the sideline for the first time since a Week 3 loss to Jacksonville.
Pagano endured three rounds of chemotherapy to put his cancer in remission.
He repeatedly thanked fans for their prayers and letters, the organization and his family for their unwavering help and promised to provide comfort and support to other people who are facing similar fights.
During one poignant moment that nearly brought out tears again, Pagano recounted a letter sent to him by a 9-year-old who suggested he suck on ice chips and strawberry Popsicles in the hospital, and advised him to be nice to the nurses regardless of how he felt.
Steelers’ Miller tears up knee
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller sustained multiple torn ligaments in his right knee during the loss to the Bengals.
Miller, a prime candidate for the Pro Bowl and team MVP, tore anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments on Sunday. He also has a possible tear in his posterior cruciate ligament.
Bears need Packers’ help
The Chicago Bears might be rooting louder for Green Bay than even the most loyal Packers fans this week. They need an assist from their biggest rivals.
The Bears kept themselves in playoff contention with a 28-13 win at Arizona on Sunday. They need to win at Detroit this week and they need the Packers to beat or tie Minnesota later in the day.
Vick might get start
Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles has a broken right hand, and coach Andy Reid says Michael Vick likely will start against the New York Giants in Sunday’s season finale.
Reid said Foles broke his throwing hand in the second quarter of a 27-20 loss to Washington.
Vick hasn’t played since suffering a concussion during a loss to the Cowboys on Nov. 11. He recently was cleared to return.