Before players were interviewed in the locker room, Pagano tried to set the tone with a succinct response to the first question about his boss.
“Business as usual,” he said.
He stared, as if to say, “No need to say anything else.”
A determined reporter was unfazed and asked a follow-up question.
“Business as usual,” Pagano repeated. He stared again, this time as if to say, “Didn’t you hear me the first time?”
Asked if he would miss Irsay in the locker room after games, Pagano opened up ever so slightly with, “Physically, yeah. His spirit will be there.”
The Colts conveyed the company line to players for obvious reasons — the owner’s suspension for driving impaired in March can’t be a distraction when the team opens the regular season Sunday night on the road against the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos.
Quarterback Andrew Luck included the expected words in his first response.
“I don’t think it’s going to change our preparation in a sense,” he said. “It’s obviously not ideal, but for us, it’s business as usual. I don’t think it will have any negative impact on preparation, games and anything. When he comes back, it’ll be great.”
He ended his response to a follow-up question with, “We know how much the Colts mean to him.”
Second-year outside linebacker Bjoern Werner didn’t go there. He gave the company line, advised the team had made a pact to not discuss it, then responded bluntly to a second question that he would only discuss football.
Tight end Dwayne Allen lowered his guard a little.
“Definitely there will be a void after the games,” he said.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton elaborated more.
“We’re going to miss him a lot, his locker-room presence when he comes in and gets us ready for the game,” he said. “But we’ve got his back. When it comes Sunday, he’ll be on our minds and we’ll be ready to play for him.”
Pagano, finally, showed his human side near the end of his visit to the media center lectern.
“Mr. Irsay is family. We’re all family,” he said. “I’ve been on record as saying the first time I shook his hand, the three words out of his mouth, the first three words when I came on an interview even before I got offered the job: ‘Faith, family and football’ is what he lived by. He’s not a guy that just talks it, he walks it. He’s family and we have his back. I certainly have his back, my family has his back.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.