Ray Rice talks bout "emotional win" over Colts
From the minute Ray Lewis took the field for warmups, the cameras swarmed around him as he prepared for his final game in Baltimore. The emotion of the moment was gripping, with fans, coaches, players, heck, even police officers on the sideline caught up in it.
Sunday's game, though, was also thick with emotion on the other sideline, as first-year Colts coach Chuck Pagano led his team onto the field for the playoffs less than four months after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Pagano's battle has resonated around the NFL, and especially in Baltimore, where he worked as John Harbaugh's defensive coordinator last season, and in Indianapolis, where Pagano has quickly become a beloved figure.
"Coach is an inspiration to us and the people in Indianapolis," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said after the game. "The courage that he has shown this season has been an example for us all. His situation put a lot of perspective on football and life. We just love him to death."
The feeling, apparently, is mutual.
This week, Pagano wrote an open letter to Colts fans via the Indianapolis Star that read, in part, "Being new to the community I never expected the outpouring of support I received from Colts fans throughout the state and country. The love and support you showed my family and me gave me a tremendous amount of comfort and peace."
Pagano was met with a cheer from Ravens fans as he was introduced before the game, and afterward Harbaugh called him "a great man."
The Colts, who were coming off a 2-14 train wreck of a season, were one of the NFL's biggest surprises this season, and the way the team rallied around Pagano, who was hospitalized for a month during the season, was one of the league's best stories.
After the Ravens ended the Colts' season with a 24-9 win on Sunday, Pagano lamented the loss -- "we didn't make the plays when we had the opportunities" -- but not the effort.
"These guys have overcome a lot and done nothing but great things this year," Pagano said. "And again, I'm really proud of this football team and this coaching staff and this whole organization. I thank all our fans and the organization that supported all of us through this whole ordeal."