Dungy Joins Those Who Know What ‘Loss’ Really Means

By Pete Alfano
Updated: December 23, 2005

Roger Clemens lost his mom in September, when the Houston Astros were in the thick of the division race.

Cowboys coach Bill Parcells lost a brother several weeks ago, in the middle of the football season.

In the same time frame, he also attended the funeral of Giants patriarch Wellington Mara, who gave Parcells –- then a little-known assistant –- his first head coaching job in 1983.

On Thursday, Tony Dungy, coach of the Indianpolis Colts, learned that his 18-year-old son had died.

James Dungy was found dead by his girlfriend at his Tampa apartment.

The cause of death is pending an autopsy.

Clemens, Parcells and Dungy have vastly different personalities. But they know what the real losses in life are about.

They have nothing to do with games.

The death of a parent, brother, or child is no less painful for celebrities, athletes and coaches than for ordinary people.

They share the same sorrow. They feel the same void.

They ask the same question – why?

But their mourning is more public. All eyes watch to see how they respond.

And now we’ll be watching Tony Dungy.

This had the makings of a milestone year for him.

He turned 50 in October. He is completing his 10th season as a head coach in the National Football League.

The Colts are generally acknowledged as the best team in the league and Super Bowl favorites.

Until last Sunday, Dungy’s biggest issue was dealing with the fact that the Colts might be too good.

They were 13-0, just three victories from finishing the regular season unbeaten.

Only the 1972 Miami Dolphins have gone through an NFL season without a loss, and they played only 14 regular season games. They won three times in the playoffs to finish 17-0 and become Super Bowl champions.

Dungy was wrestling with whether to rest some starting players to reduce the risk of a key injury and allow the team to be at full strength for the post-season or whether to play for perfection — and history.

The San Diego Chargers may have done him a favor by beating the Colts in Indianapolis. That ensures that starters such as quarterback Peyton Manning will get some down time.

It also dispells any notion the Colts may have had that they are invincible in the RCA Dome.

How much of that can matter to Dungy now?

Even winning the Super Bowl will probably seem empty to him.

Dungy is one of the most personable and respected coaches in the NFL.

He’s a player’s coach. He epitomizes grace under fire on the sidelines.

His record is 106-64, which includes the Colts’ 13-1 mark thus far this season.

In 10 years (the first six with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Dungy’s teams have been in the playoffs eight times.

He was only the fifth African-American to become a head coach in the NFL (counting Fritz Pollard of the old Akron Pros in 1921), but his race is a footnote now.

He’s not a black coach; he’s a coach who happens to be black.

Just as his accomplishments transcend color, so can everyone understand the grief he feels.

Tony and his wife, Lauren, have five children, but will mourn the loss of their son the same as they would an only child.

Dungy will not be riding the football merry-go-round the rest of this week, and perhaps all of next.

This will not be a Merry Christmas.

His world has been turned upside down in less than a week.

This is a time of year when families often reunite.

Tony Dungy will be home for the holidays, but for a reason he could have never imagined.