As if the Colts’ world hadn’t been rocked quite enough in the past few hours, the players had to deal with this this sight on the practice field Monday afternoon:
Bruce Arians cheering on the defense, applauding an interception.
“Defensive guys were really shook up when I was cheering for them today,” said Arians, the career offensive assistant suddenly thrust into the lead role. “They couldn’t believe it. A couple of offensive guys go, ‘He’s traded on me already.’ I said, ‘No it’s just different now.’
“It’s different, you can’t deny that.”
With head coach Chuck Pagano hospitalized with leukemia for up to six weeks and unlikely to return to the field this season, Colts players and coaches must find a way to move forward. It’s a huge challenge for Arians, who will continue to manage the offense while adding the head coach’s responsibilities. The team will take its usual Tuesday off and resume practice Wednesday in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Though he has a world of experience as an assistant, Arians hasn’t been a head coach since the 1980s at Temple University.
While Pagano’s illness most certainly will represent a rallying point, it remains to be seen if that can compensate for the popular coach’s absence from the meeting room, the practice field and the sideline on game day.
“I don’t fully comprehend the severity of it or the situation,” said Andrew Luck. “It will slowly hit us as the days go by, as you realize when you are out on the field and he’s not out there. It’s a little odd. Being around him for the last months, I know he’ll fight leukemia just like he’s come to work every day with great enthusiasm.
“I firmly believe he’ll beat it. I firmly believe he’ll be back with us by the end of the season. But until then, I know we’ll be behind him 100 percent and I hope everybody in Indianapolis and this country is behind him because he deserves everything. It’s tough news to hear but I still think we are sort of in a shock mode.”
There is no more break in the schedule. The Colts have no choice but to shake themselves awake from this nightmare, compartmentalize their emotions and get back to business. Though support for Arians as the interim was universal in the locker room, the fact remains Pagano was the leader of this team, the energetic, enthusiastic guiding force and his absence will be felt.
For years, the players took pride in the “next man up” approach. If one player was injured, the next was expected to step in and perform just as well.
“This is sort of different,” said safety Antoine Bethea. “Here, we talk as a crew and the head of our crew is down.”
They intend to play the rest of this season in — and for — his honor.
“I’m pretty sure that when we go out on this field on Sunday, and every game, we are going to play for coach Pagano,” said Bethea. “I think that one of the best things we can do for him is wherever he’s at watching that TV, he can look at that ticker and see we’re winning. We can win for him.
“We are going to go out there and are going to fight. We’re going to scratch, claw and try to get these wins for coach Pagano.”
Update: Colt’s Press Conference video