November 12, 2007

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

Tony Dungy will probably never stand on a soapbox, shove a cameraman, toss a chair, berate a reporter, pat himself on the back or raise his voice, and because of that it is easy to forget about him sometimes.

In an era when civility in sports and in life is too often overshadowed by the loud and the boorish, Dungy remains classy among the clowns, calm among the agitated.

He's won a few football games, too.

When I look back on the 2007 year in sports, I see Dungy and his Colts scoring 32 second-half points to defeat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. Dungy and his Colts wearing down the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Dungy and his Colts celebrating a title that meant more than a shiny trophy behind glass in a lobby.

Two years ago, Dungy and his wife, Lauren, endured the death of their 18-year-old son, the kind of pain no victory in a football game could ever offset.

But Dungy has turned his personal grief into a way of helping others. Five months after winning the Super Bowl, Dungy released his book, Quiet Strength, that quickly became a New York Times best seller.

A champion had become an author.

What has most impressed me during Dungy's career has been his comportment in good times and in bad. When he was an assistant coach waiting for his chance to be a head coach, I never heard him complain about being passed over time and again. While others bemoaned his long wait, Dungy remained his usual upbeat self.

Finally given the opportunity to coach the moribund Buccaneers in 1996, he turned a losing franchise into a constant playoff presence.

But it wasn't until last February that everything came together on the football field for Dungy, who accepted his first Super Bowl title with grace and humility, the same way he accepts the roses and thorns of life.

If there was a better example of talent, class and citizenship in sports in 2007, I didn't see it.

Tony Dungy, a sportsman and Renaissance man.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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