Big Brothers Big Sisters

Colts coach Chuck Pagano poses for photos at Grand Wayne Center

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With draft looming, Pagano giving back

– There Colts coach Chuck Pagano goes, a galloping ghost in a dark suit and a teal tie. Blink once, and he’s signing autographs at the front of the room. Blink twice, and he’s saying hi to a couple of needy-looking media types, who will remain needy because … well, because he’s quicker than you think he is.

Also busier, apparently.

And so he’s there and gone and then it’s out to the lobby of Grand Wayne Center, where the line of donors waiting for a grip-and-grin photo op with Coach curls back around a partition set up for the purpose. After this, it’s back to his table to review his notes. After that, he’ll be using those notes to make the keynote speech for Thursday’s Big Brothers Big Sisters Gourmet Dinner, for which he has flown here from Indianapolis even though the NFL draft is less than a month away.

And the needy media types?

Well, they’re out of luck, thanks to a screw-up in the schedule, which apparently is tighter than a miser’s purse. So we’ll leave Coach posing for one more photo (Say cheese!) and go find someone who kind of knows him, and who can maybe explain why Pagano holds events like this so close to his heart.

Hey, look. Here’s Chandler Harnish.

The former Norwell star and Colts third-string quarterback puts down the piece of melon he’s working on and says, listen, the thing about Pagano is, first of all, he’s not about Pagano. He’s about everyone else, particularly those who don’t always get an even break in this world, like a lot of the kids served by Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“He’s a guy that is very selfless, puts the community first, always putting someone before himself,” Harnish says. “That’s the type of person he is, and that’s pretty evident. For him to fly up here kind of on a whim, especially during draft time and right before OTAs, it must show how important it is to him.”

For why that is, you need to go back about 19 months, when Pagano was in his first season as an NFL head coach and the Colts were confounding everyone by not being your typical rebuild. They were winning, and more to the point they were buying into the family culture Pagano was selling – and then suddenly the head of the family was gone.

Diagnosed with leukemia, Pagano went into treatment. And then it was playoff time, and he was back, having become not just a coach but inspiration for an entire city.

“I’ve really seen a change in him as a human being, as a man, as a father, as a husband as a friend,” Harnish says. “Just the way he’s really grasped onto his faith going through the situation he did, and the way he interacts with people, it’s so special. You would never, ever know he’s an NFL head coach. He’s just so down to earth, so humble.”

Maybe even more so now. Because if he had empathy for those going through hard times before, for worthy causes and those who make them such, he seems to have even more now.

“He knows more than anybody you can’t take any day for granted,” Harnish says. “And just to see that transformation has been a huge impact in my life and I know a lot more people’s lives.”

Harnish smiles. It’s a bit before 7 p.m., and somewhere around here, Chuck Pagano is getting ready to do what he came to do.

Make an impact would be a good guess.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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