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Chad Pemberton: Colts are a pleasant surprise

Nov. 16, 2012 @ 11:35 AM

None of this was supposed to happen for the Indianapolis Colts.

Not the 6-3 start. Certainly not Reggie Wayne's somewhat baffling resurgence as one of the NFL's five best receivers.

Not even Andrew Luck's burgeoning rookie legend. He's routinely doing things that not even Peyton Manning did as a rookie. Luck set the record for most passing yards in a single game by a rookie with 433. Manning didn't throw for 400 yards until his 19th game. Through his first eight games Luck has led the Colts on game-winning drives four times. Manning had zero in his first eight games.

Sure, Luck was billed as the best quarterback prospect since John Elway, but, come on, the Colts barely won two measly games last season. How much could anyone have expected this team's record to improve with a new coach and general manager, a rookie quarterback and a roster totally unburdened with talent? To magnify this point, consider this historical point of reference: Since the 1970 merger, no quarterback taken No. 1 overall has made the playoffs his rookie year. Luck would be the first.

Again, none of this was supposed to happen. Especially Colts coach Chuck Pagano's leukemia diagnosis on Sept. 26.

Cancer is never supposed to happen. But it does. And then so many things that once held an absurd amount of importance just seem absurdly inconsequential in the face of one's own mortality. Cancer doesn't wipe out the past. It takes the future -- in the case of Pagano, dancing with his daughters at their wedding, maybe someday hoisting the Lombardi trophy -- and puts a giant question mark in its place.

For now that question mark is replaced with hopeful optimism. On Nov. 5, Pagano's doctor said he was in complete remission.

This Sunday the Colts face the New England Patriots in the latest installment of what used to be the NFL's most riveting rivalry. If the Colts win, they'll have a 7-3 record with only six games left. So even if they split games the rest of the way, a 10-6 record would be more than enough for a Wild Card berth in the pitiful AFC.

There's no way to adequately measure the kind of positive effect Pagano's illness has had on this team, but interim head coach Bruce Arians, who battled prostate cancer earlier in life, believes Pagano's illness has given this very young Colts team a sense of purpose. In an interview earlier this week, Arians said: "All we can do is continue to try to make the season go further to get him back."

The notion of fighting for each other has galvanized this team. Unified them. The players fight for Pagano with their inexperience and lack of talent in tow.

Even for the most cynical hearts, this story is too good, too inspiring to ignore. The Colts are looking for another win this week. Not because the Colts and Patriots is a storied rivalry desperately in need of resuscitation, but because they know it buys them more time. The farther they make it, the more likely it is that Pagano will be able to rejoin them on the sideline before the season ends. That's their only goal right now.

No matter what happens Sunday, even if the Colts get blown out, it feels like they have already won.

Chad Pemberton is a Marshall University graduate who follows the NFL and is writing about it for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at pemberton@herald-dispatch.com.

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