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A Father's Wish

Feb. 12, 2007
Feb. 12, 2007

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Feb. 12, 2007

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A Father's Wish

There was one more person with whom Tony Dungy wanted to share his landmark victory

THE QUESTION, asdeeply personal as any that could be asked in a postgame locker room, was posedto Tony Dungy while he was still damp from the rain and the Gatorade shower,his voice beginning to give out after 90 minutes of gracious chatting withplayers, family and the media in the wake of Sunday night's Super Bowl win overthe Bears. The question was about James Dungy, the coach's son who committedsuicide 14 months ago at the age of 18. What do you think James is thinkingright now?

This is an article from the Feb. 12, 2007 issue Original Layout

With a serene smileand no trace of hesitation, Dungy replied, "I think James is thinking, Dadfinally did it, and I wish I could have been there." He paused for a coupleof seconds, then added, "I wish that too."

Dungy, 51, becamethe first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, but afterward he soundedlike a man not long for the sideline, someone feeling the magnetic pull of hisfamily: wife Lauren and their five children. "I won't be coaching when I'm60," he said. "When I was with the Steelers, Chuck Noll told us,'Football is not your life's work. It's just a station in life.' I still have aburning passion to coach football. But there will come a day when I will walkaway to pursue other things. This is not the fairest job in the world to yourfamily. I've had three days off since our [mid-October] bye week."

Told that Laurenhad said she thought he'd return for a sixth season in Indy, Dungy said,"We have a chance to do something special here long-term, and I'd like tobe part of a group that strings together a couple of these."

Whenever he doesleave, Dungy is likely to devote more time to two community-service outfits inTampa, where he coached from 1996 through 2001. One is All Pro Dad, a groupthat offers advice to fathers; the other is Abe Brown Ministries, which reachesout to at-risk families. Dungy grew up in Jackson, Mich., home to a stateprison, and the idea that a young life could be ruined by one mistake had agreat impact on him. "I grew up seeing so many 17-, 18-, 19-year-oldsincarcerated," he said. You realize that life should not be over at thatage. You need to help those people, and give them hope."

Dungy is anythingbut the classic overbearing, intimidating football coach. Several of hisplayers said on Sunday night that they can't remember the last time he yelledat them. He takes pride in that: As much as he's humbled by comparisons toracial-barrier breakers such as Arthur Ashe, he wants to be known as a coachwho proved that you can win the Big One without being the Obsessive One. Hispep talk on Saturday night? "He was pretty calm, as usual," said tightend Dallas Clark. "His message was, 'You don't have to do anything specialto win this game. Just do your job and we'll be fine.'"

On Sunday nightDungy recalled how, early in his career, he had lost out on some head-coachingjobs, such as Jacksonville's in 1994, when owner Wayne Weaver picked TomCoughlin over Dungy because he wanted a coach who could bite his players' headsoff when need be. Dungy's low-key style was thought by some to be a weakness,and his critics found ammunition five years ago after Tampa Bay replaced Dungywith Jon Gruden, a fire-and-brimstone coach who won a Super Bowl in his firstyear. But Dungy refused to conform to the stereotype; now he and Gruden aretied in Super Bowl wins, and Dungy's career winning percentage (.648) dwarfsGruden's (.535). "When I took this job," Dungy said, "I told theColts I wasn't going to be a guy who slept in the office, and if that wasimportant, they should hire someone else. So as much as being the firstAfrican-American coach to win a Super Bowl, I'm just as proud to representcoaches who don't believe football is the biggest thing in theirlives."

Dungy doesn't getenough credit for his defensive expertise and game planning, but it's his TampaTwo scheme--with two safeties deep and athletic linebackers covering receiversall over the field--that both teams played in Super Bowl XLI. (Bears coachLovie Smith was a Dungy protégé in Tampa Bay.) Dungy's strategy against theBears was simple: Bottle up the running game by deploying an eighth defendernear the line of scrimmage more often than usual, don't assume third-and-mediumplays will always be passes, and vary the looks on passing downs to confuse RexGrossman. Chicago had only 265 total yards, converted three of 10 third-downplays and committed five turnovers.

On his way to thelocker room after a round of postgame interviews, Dungy bumped into backupdefensive tackle Dan Klecko. They hugged. "It means so much to win it foryou," a misty-eyed Klecko whispered in Dungy's ear. And this is afirst-year Colt, who wasn't even on the team when James Dungy died in December2005. "Just knowing what Tony and his family have been through," Kleckosaid afterward, "we all wanted so bad to win it for him."

Inside the lockerroom, team president Bill Polian, who hired Dungy five years ago, pondered themagnitude of the Colts' first NFL title in their 23 seasons in Indianapolis. Heconcluded, "This is Tony's championship. There is no better role model inAmerica today than Tony Dungy."

On Sunday night,while Dungy reveled in the greatest moment of his professional life, histhoughts turned to Eagles coach Andy Reid, whose two sons had high-profilerun-ins with the law earlier in the week. "One of the first things I'mgoing to do when we get back to Indianapolis is call Andy," Dungy said."I know the feeling. It tears you apart. I'll tell him, 'Give those boysyour love. You can't give them too much love.'"

Ten feet awayDungy's 15-year-old son, Eric, was beaming with pride.

PHOTOSIMON BRUTYIN STRIDE Dungy's players responded to his characteristically low-key, workmanlike approach to the Super Bowl.