Former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano accepted the head coaching position with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012; but not long after his first season, he was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and was hospitalized for treatment.
His story of faith and recovery, while leading the Colts during his time of crisis, and of the immense support he received from family, friends, and the team are documented in his new book, Sidelined: Overcoming Odds through Unity, Passion and Perseverance.
Coauthored by Bruce A. Tollner, in Sidelined Pagano documents his experiences undergoing chemotherapy while leading the Colts to the playoffs, and of being strengthened by the triumvirate of "faith, family, and football."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Tollner explained that he agreed to help tell Pagano's story for reasons including that proceeds from the book will go to various charities, including cancer research.
"Also [I wanted] the opportunity to share an inside look at an incredible story that will hopefully provide some hope and inspiration for other people that are battling adversity," said Tollner.
Sidelined includes a forward written by former Colts head coach Tony Dungy, the first African-American to lead an NFL team to a Super Bowl victory.
Dungy wrote that readers will be "impressed with the inner strength and determination of" Pagano and his wife, Tina.
"But I know that's not what they'll want you to come away with after reading the book," wrote Dungy in the foreword. "They will want you to see what God can do with a family, and a team, who have faith in God and a love for each other that can overcome even the toughest of circumstances."
A family unit
Although he had only been with the Colts for several months when news of his cancer diagnosis was made known, the team and its organization poured out much support.
One player wore orange gloves during his games due to orange being the color for leukemia awareness while players and even a couple cheerleaders shaved their heads in solidarity with Pagano.
Via social media the term #Chuckstrong became a phenomenon, with large banners reading "Chuckstrong" being placed behind goalposts.
Tollner told CP that the outpouring from players, fans and the owners of the Colts was an amazing development.
"I was extremely impressed at how the team, the organization, and the community came together and rallied around him after only being there since January, and this was the third game of the regular season," said Tollner.
"Once he found out he was diagnosed with leukemia, from that point forward the way the team and the organization, the community rallied around him was incredible."
While in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, Pagano continued to work with the team, usually via phone calls and emails with other coaches and occasionally in-person visits with personnel at the cancer center.
"Chuck what are you doing? You're supposed to be in here resting," asked one player visiting Pagano who noticed the coach at work on his iPad.
"This is my rest," responded Pagano.
The rock and faith
When admitted into the cancer center, the facility gave Pagano an alias to delay a news leak. He was given the name "The Rock" after the former professional wrestler.
"While the alias on my ID bracelet may have read 'The Rock,' [Tina and I] both believed that Christ is the solid Rock who would see us through this," wrote Pagano.
Tollner told CP that for Pagano "the power of prayer was definitely an important part" of his recovery, coupled with "family being there with him and supporting him, and friends being with him."
"Coach and Tina had a daily devotional every day throughout the process and I think that played a significant role in their recovery," noted Tollner.
"We don't wear our beliefs on our sleeve or try to force them on others. We just try to place our trust in God and let our actions reflect our beliefs," explained Pagano in the book.
"Football is not who we are; it's what we do. As players and coaches, it doesn't define us. Family does. Faith does. You're defined by how you play the game, not by the game itself."
Sidelined: Overcoming Odds through Unity, Passion, and Perseverance was published by Zondervan and released Tuesday.