In some ways, the fairy tale ending for last year’s Colts and the men that lived through the journey happened not because the team made the playoffs but because head coach Chuck Pagano won his battle with leukemia.
Harold Goodwin has no trouble talking about this.
Ask the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator, then the Colts’ offensive line coach, what the greatest lesson learned from that time, however, and Goodwin needs a moment to compose himself.
Goodwin’s next door neighbor in Indiana had a little girl named Carter, who along with her brother Will, would come over to the Goodwins to play with Harold’s son. Carter too had leukemia.
“She wrote a letter for Chuck,” Goodwin said. “She came to me, ‘Can you give this to coach?’ I did. He read it and wrote her back.”
Goodwin paused, fighting the emotion.
“She died a few weeks ago. She was in remission and it came back and she died. The day before she died, I had Chuck call her parents.”
Carter Nebesio, only 7 years old, passed away on Sept. 26 – the one-year anniversary when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia.
The news hit Goodwin hard. He had been through other things. There was Pagano, and before that, there was friend Kirby Wilson. Wilson, the Steelers’ running backs coach (and one-time Cardinals’ assistant) whom Goodwin had gotten to know as a coaching intern in Pittsburgh, was severely burned in a house fire a couple of years ago.
Pagano and Wilson, however, not only recovered, but returned to NFL sidelines. Carter wasn’t going to get a chance to live her life.
“The lesson is life is short. Live it to the fullest,” Goodwin said. “That’s the lesson. God has angels everywhere. I go back and think, now, she wasn’t your normal 6- or 7-year old girl. She was different, in a good way. That correlation between her and Chuck, their fights with cancer. He survives, she loses her life. You have to live every day to the fullest.
“I enjoy this job, but I’m not going to let it eat me up. That’s the lesson I learned last year with Carter and Chuck. At the end of the day, this is just a game. Life is life.”