Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, whose battle with a curable form of leukemia during the 2012 season touched many across the NFL and helped raise research funds, has been selected as the 2013 George Halas Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Pagano, the 44th Halas Award winner, is the third NFL head coach and fourth member of the Colts franchise to receive the honor from the PFWA.
The Halas Award is given to a NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed. The award is named for Halas, a charter member (1963) of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who was associated with the Chicago Bears and NFL from their inception in 1920 until his death in 1983 as an owner, manager, player and promoter. Halas won 324 games and six NFL titles in 40 seasons as a coach.
Pagano, who was in his first season as Colts head coach, was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and hospitalized at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis on Sept. 26 during the team’s bye week. The Colts named Bruce Arians as interim head coach as Pagano spent almost a month in the hospital.
Pagano attended the Nov. 4 home game against Miami and spoke to the team before and after the 23-20 victory over the Dolphins. He told the team after the game, “My vision that I’m living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then hoist that Lombardi Trophy several times.”
The next day, it was announced that Pagano was in remission, but he would continue to go through chemotherapy. He saluted the crowd during an emotional public appearance Nov. 25 from Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay’s suite in Lucas Oil Stadium during the Colts’ victory over Buffalo.
The Colts organization coined CHUCKSTRONG during Pagano’s absence, and sales proceeds from t-shirts and wristbands with the slogan went toward leukemia research. A collection benefitting research was held prior to an October home game, and several Colts players, including quarterback Andrew Luck, shaved their heads in support of their coach.
He was given clearance to return to coaching Dec. 20, and a healthy Pagano was back on the sideline for the Colts’ final regular-season game Dec. 30 at home against Houston. The Colts finished a remarkable turnaround from 2-14 the season before to 11-5 and earned an AFC Wild Card playoff berth.
“What struck me most about Pagano during his absence was how he kept in contact with the coaches and his players,” said Mike Chappell, Colts beat writer for the Indianapolis Star. “Arians made it clear Pagano was always supplied with video of practices, and he was always offering advice from the hospital. T.Y. Hilton was a rookie returning punts, and he received a text from Pagano during the week of the Buffalo game. ‘Stretch and cut, stretch and cut, stretch and cut.’ In the first quarter, he heeded Pagano’s advice and returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.”
ABOUT THE PFWA: The Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) is the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams on a daily basis. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter, who covers the Atlanta Falcons, is the organization’s president for 2013-15. Follow the PFWA on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.
GEORGE HALAS AWARD WINNERS (To the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed): 1970 – Joe Namath (New York Jets); 1971 – Gale Sayers (Chicago Bears); 1972 – Tom Dempsey (New Orleans Saints); 1973 – Jimmy Johnson (San Francisco 49ers); 1974 – Mike Tilleman (Atlanta Falcons); 1975 – Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears); 1976 – Billy Kilmer (Washington Redskins); 1977 – Tom DeLeone (Cleveland Browns); 1978 – Pat Fischer (Washington Redskins); 1979 – Bert Jones (Baltimore Colts); 1980 – Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys); 1981 – Rolf Benirschke (San Diego Chargers); 1982 – Joe Klecko (New York Jets); 1983 – Eddie Lee Ivery (Green Bay Packers); 1984 – Ted Hendricks (Los Angeles Raiders); 1985 – John Stallworth (Pittsburgh Steelers); 1986 – Gary Jeter (Los Angeles Rams); 1987 – William Andrews (Atlanta Falcons); 1988 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1989 – Karl Nelson (New York Giants); 1990 – Tim Krumrie (Cincinnati Bengals); 1991 – Dan Hampton (Chicago Bears); 1992 – Mike Utley (Detroit Lions); 1993 – Mark Bavaro (Cleveland Browns); 1994 – Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers); 1995 – Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins); 1996 – Larry Brown (Oakland Raiders); 1997 – Jim Harbaugh (Indianapolis Colts); 1998 – Mark Schlereth (Denver Broncos); 1999 – Dan Reeves (Atlanta Falcons); 2000 – Bryant Young (San Francisco 49ers); 2001 – Kerry Collins (New York Giants); 2002 – Garrison Hearst (San Francisco 49ers); 2003 – Robert Edwards (Miami Dolphins); 2004 – Sam Mills (Carolina Panthers); 2005 – Mark Fields (Carolina Panthers); 2006 – Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts); 2007 – Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints); 2008 – Kevin Everett (Buffalo Bills); 2009 – Matt Bryant (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); 2010 – Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati Bengals); 2011 – Mike Heimerdinger (Tennessee Titans); 2012 – Robert Kraft (New England Patriots); 2013 – Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis Colts).