Making the Trip is a series about my three-day trek through Indiana, mostly about my time at the Indianapolis Colts' training camp. Basic notes from camp are a part of the series, but also a few other things that I wanted to extrapolate on. You can read the previous chapters, the notes from Monday and Tuesday's training camp, here and here.
The clouds rolled across the previously bright skies of Anderson as practice came to a close. What was once a beautiful, clear day became dreary as a light drizzle intermittently leaked from above.
The Colts' Monday afternoon training camp practice had ended and a few players approached the fence separating them from the fans who had come to Anderson University that day to get an up-close look at the 2013 Colts. While players like Andrew Luck, Griff Whalen and Pat McAfee signed autographs, a few others stayed late to work on their craft.
In the far end zone was the three tight ends: Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Justice Cunningham. The three jogged back and forth across the end zone, cooling down while catching the occasional pass from a nearby assistant coach. Meanwhile, Vontae Davis and a few other defensive backs hit the JUGS machine, working on the hands that earn DBs their next big contracts through turnovers. Most of the players lingered for a few minutes, whether it was to stretch, sign autographs or chat with one of the coaches.
In the midst of it all was one man. While he wasn't in the exact center of the mulling crowd of players and coaches, the energy emitted from the field started and ended with him. It had carried over from practice, where he rarely commanded the fan's attention, but was clearly the source of direction and leadership for the group on the field.
He was Chuck Pagano, and this was his team.
Rarely had Pagano raised his voice or addressed the entire team, but rather wandered practice speaking with each player or position coach individually. He offered coaching tips here and there, but didn't spend too much time in one spot.
Now, he stood still, allowing the wave of players and coaches to pass him by as he watched his team slowly leave the practice field with a careful eye. He slowly made his way over to the fence, where two or three remaining players were still signing autographs and a horde of fans clamored for his attention. It would be easy for Pagano to do this menial task with a robotic attitude, just pleasing the fans for a few minutes before going back into the locker room with his team.
But Pagano treated his supporters with kindness and a smile: each and every one of them. I watched as he looked at each fan, holding himself up as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, but also a fellow human being who appreciated their presence. No single person was treated as more important than any body else, although I could have sworn that Pagano's smile was a little bit bigger when he took pictures with two different mentally challenged individuals.
Slowly, the last of the players drifted off the practice field and into the locker room, but Pagano remained. Eventually the position coaches would disappear as well, but Pagano remained. He stayed for over 45 minutes after practice finished, taking care of each and every fan that wanted an autograph. He never addressed the crowd directly, but gave personal attention to each individual Hoosier (or adopted-Hoosiers like myself).
After the last of the fans had received an autograph, Pagano and his assistant got in a golf cart to drive off the field. As he started to drive away, a cry from the corner of the field could be heard. There was one more hopeful family who wanted an autograph. Pagano stopped the golf cart, got out and made one last group of fans' day.
Why did he give personal time to each fan there? He could have easily thanked the whole crowd for coming out and supporting the team, or signed a few flyers and left the field. Instead, he took care of everybody individually. Why?
Perhaps it's because Pagano views the fans of the Indianapolis Colts the same way he views those same Colts, and thus treats them the same way he coaches his team. While the team is one unified group under one blue-and-white banner, and the fanbase is a united assembly of devoted Colts' followers, Pagano saw more than a collective mass in both.
Just as the team is made up of individuals, individuals that Pagano spent all practice (and many practices before) watching and cultivating, the fanbase is made up of individuals as well. Pagano saw it fit to connect with each solitary member, just as he coached the practice by personally addressing players and position coaches alike. For while the Colts' sum may be greater than its parts, Pagano realized that the solitary parts must be developed and maintained in order to contribute to that sum.
Did signing autographs for 100 people on Monday afternoon win over an entire fanbase? No.
But 100 people were touched by the gesture, and having him smile back at them when he did it made 100 people's day. It may not seem like much, but the lasting image of Chuck Pagano for those people is a down-to-earth coach who cared enough about them, as individuals, to be the last one to leave the field. In 45 minutes, Pagano won over 100 people.
Actually, make that 101.