INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano put on his dancing shoes and savored every moment of Sunday’s postgame celebration.
He took his customary linebacker stance on the sideline, hands on bended knees. He signaled touchdowns when the Colts scored, patted Deji Karim on the helmet after a 101-yard kickoff return for a game-changing touchdown, and gestured for penalty flags to be thrown.
And after Indianapolis beat AFC South champion Houston 28-16, Pagano even tossed aside the stodgy image of an NFL coach and began jumping around with players, assistant coaches and even team owner Jim Irsay like he was a kid again.
“There was a lot of high-fiving, a lot of dancing, a lot of hugging going on and a lot of celebrating,” an emotional Pagano said. “There’s a lot to celebrate right now.”
It started with Pagano’s return.
He took an indefinite leave Sept. 26 to begin the first of three rounds of chemotherapy for leukemia and didn’t make it back to the sideline until Sunday when the cancer was in complete remission.
But the party began much earlier.
When Pagano first walked onto the field, he waved to the fans and hugged his wife, Tina.
When fans gave him a standing ovation after a one-minute video played on the stadium’s two Jumbotrons just before kickoff, a choked up Pagano held tears in check.
When he left the field, he hugged everybody in sight — assistant coaches, Colts players, even Texans players and coaches — before moving the postgame party to the locker room, where Irsay presented him with a game ball and they did a do-si-do together.
“What a day, what a day,” he said. “We could go into what transpired out there over the last three hours and five, 10 minutes whatever, from a stats standpoint and big plays, penalties and run offense and run `D’, all of that stuff.
“But just down the road, I have watched all of this take place for the last 12 ball games.”
Players had a different kind of welcome-back celebration planned.
“Guys really did not want to lose in his first game back and heading into the playoffs,” rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said. “To get a win, I think means the world to him.”