Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

July 02, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

or missed a tackle or jumped offside or took a stupid penalty?

Pagano said. “Rex let them know that playing next to Ray Lewis was a privilege and there was a lot that came along with that.”

Now the Colts, in some strange way, had one of the best parts of Baltimore once again carted off to Indianapolis in Pagano, who was universally adored in Owings Mills and had been through – and really was still in the midst of – the biggest challenge of his life still battling leukemia. And he had taken a big chunk of Harbaugh’s philosophies with him to power the Colts.

“John is all about family and he never wavered, never flinched,” Pagano said. “He never backed off it one second knowing that once a team decides to buy in, they go all in. And if you’re not all in, you have to get out. I’m trying to create the same culture in Indy. It’s about relationships, family, and putting egos aside and doing what’s best for the team. Everyone is going to have a role, and when you have a chance you play the best you can for the team. When you win, there’ll be enough credit to go around.”

“But,” Pagano admitted, “that’s hard to create.”

Now as the head coach for the son of the man who drove the Baltimore Colts out of their home of five decades in the middle of the night in Mayflower vans, he says the new Irsay Way and the Bisciotti Way are closely aligned.

“Faith, family, football – in that order,” Pagano said. “That’s Mr. Irsay’s mandate in Indianapolis. And my late father in law, that’s all he preached in his home. Without faith and without family what do you have? You have nothing. Those are the things that carry you, get you through hard times. They get you past the situation the Ravens had with Torrey Smith.

“And it’s also what makes you believe that Juice [O.J. Brigance] might jump outta that chair one day,” said Pagano, his mind drifting back to walking into Owings Mills every day with the Ravens. “The inspiration he gave! Just look at him – the integrity, grace, as a player, as a human being. If you ever walked into that building and had a gripe about anything, just take a walk down the hallway and take one look at O.J. and see his battle and the way he’s fighting. We’re all still walking around. It reminds you how blessed you are and what a privilege it is to be alive.”

“None of us are promised tomorrow.”

Pagano knew that better than anyone given what he’d endured over the past 12 months, professionally and personally.

Ray Lewis wasn’t promised another snap in the NFL. Lewis, 37, was told by doctors that this kind of biceps tear would end his 2012 season. Harbaugh even told the media that news back on October 15th. Now two days into 2013, Lewis was going to speak to the world about his comeback from an injury that no other NFL player had ever endured and returned from in the same season.

Harbaugh took the podium first and was testy, curt, and very brief in his answers. He had his playoff face on.

Lewis meandered to the press area on the practice field, just like he always had, as some teammates begin to mill on the field. It began with the usual song and dance, Lewis refusing to even say that he was playing because Harbaugh hated when players were anything less than coy regarding injuries. It’s Harbaugh’s pet peeve.

Lewis said: “Let’s just say I’m active on the roster. We’ll see from there,” an absurd statement, given the gravity of the game and the obvious comeback.

Lewis talked about “the craziest 12 weeks of my life,” rehabbing through the pain. “Most of the doctors I was dealing with were trying to get me to calm down, because I wanted to push it a little more. And I just went fast. I went real fast. Pain was really the last thing that was on my mind. I never really thought about pain a lot. I just thought about really just getting through it – the next day, the next day, the next day – and kept stacking days on top of each other.  So, I started feeling good real quick, and that’s when I started getting really excited.”

Then, Lewis spoke about his other family, his real family