Baltimore not only has to battle a hot Indianapolis team next week in the first round of the playoffs.
The Ravens have to go up against a former coach they love and a man with the force of “CHUCKSTRONG” behind him – a cause the Ravens have supported themselves.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and players were hardly done toweling off before being asked about the inner conflict awaiting them as they prepare to battle their former defensive coordinator and current Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano.
“I have tremendous respect for him, personally. I love his family,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “All of us got real close here, and he’s one of my closest personal friends in coaching. What he’s been through and the whole thing is just phenomenal.”
Pagano’s reunion with the Ravens is two-fold. Not only was he a successful coach that players adored. His fight with cancer this year has also been followed intently in Baltimore.
Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in September, forcing him into the hospital for chemotherapy treatment. After three months away from the game, he miraculously returned to the sidelines Sunday against the Houston Texans.
Pagano’s cancer rocked the Ravens when they first heard the news. They continued to follow his progress, texting and talking with him directly and through his recovery.
All the Ravens defensive linemen shaved their beards, and defensive tackle Art Jones shaved his entire head as a show of support for Pagano. They’ve been supporting the “CHUCKSTRONG” campaign on Twitter and in [add] interviews.
“I’m so happy for Chuck,” outside linebacker
Players raved about Pagano last year in his first and only season leading the defense. He was a secondary coach in Baltimore for three years before becoming the coordinator.
Pagano was enthusiastic and brash, not only with his words but with his play calling.
“I love that guy,” Jones said. “The passion that he has for the game is unbelievable.”
“He’s like a dad to me,” said safety
But football is the pressing issue now.
Reed said he would have rather faced Pagano in the AFC championship, when either he or the Ravens would be going to the Super Bowl. But while they didn’t see each other in the regular season, they landed toe to toe as soon as they possibly could.
“Chuck’s not going to be on the field, which is a good thing,” Kruger said with a chuckle. “We have a lot of love for that guy, but it’s not going to change our attitude going into the game.”
“Unfortunately now we’re fighting for the same thing, so I’m going to be ready to play,” Jones added.
Harbaugh said feelings will be put aside.
“We’re all competitors and they’re going to be coming into our place with every intention of winning the football game,” Harbaugh said. “And we’re going to have to play our best football to beat them."