A Swan Song?: Dungy Could Go Out On Top

By Ashley Fox
Updated: February 5, 2007

MIAMI — On Saturday, less than 30 hours before the biggest game of his professional coaching life, Tony Dungy was about as far away from uptight as you can get. Surrounded by a merry mass of players, their families and his relatives, Dungy was the picture of calm after the Colts’ final practice of the week.

No noticeable nerves. No visible worry. Just the calm that exudes from a peaceful man who couldn’t have been more prepared.

Sunday night, as a steady rain swirled inside Dolphin Stadium, Dungy hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. His journey had reached an apex. His Indianapolis Colts were the Super Bowl champions.

Thanks in part to the relentless rain, the Colts’ 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI won’t go down as the most precise game. It was sloppy, as players on both sides struggled to hold on to the slippery football.

But Indianapolis deserved the win: The Colts used a punishing ground game to control the clock, got a spirited effort from their defense, and capitalized on their turnovers.

In essence, after Devin Hester elated the Bears’ fans by taking the opening kickoff to the house, the Colts controlled the Bears. After the first quarter, there never really was a doubt.

We knew before the game that an African American coach would hoist the NFL’s greatest trophy before the night was over. We just didn’t know which one.

As classy a guy and as smart a coach as Lovie Smith is, it was fitting that Dungy’s team won the game. He is the teacher and Smith the pupil.

He is the 10-year head coaching veteran, the one who gave Smith a big break, the one who endured all those questions – in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay – about whether he could win the big one.

Dungy can. The big question now is: Will he come back and try for a second?

It’s no secret that being a coach in the National Football League is a punishing job, no matter whether you sleep in the office – as so many coaches do – or you don’t. It requires long, tiring hours, and time away from family, time that can’t be reclaimed once something at home goes horribly wrong.

Dungy knows this. His son committed suicide just over a year ago. Nothing could be worse than a loss of a child, no matter how strong your faith.

Look at Andy Reid. He wouldn’t be human if he didn’t wish for a few hours back with his children along the way, so maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have had to take what had to be a brutal phone call last week.

Dungy has said that he doesn’t envision himself a lifer in the NFL coaching ranks, and last week reiterated that he will sit down with his family and decide, as he does every year, whether to return to the Colts. It is, apparently, Indianapolis or nothing, which could be a 50-50 proposition now that Dungy has won a Super Bowl.

Dungy was so steady, so on message all week that it wasn’t surprising that his team was composed even when the weather got so nasty.

Just as Dungy was prepared to answer question after question on his feelings of becoming, with Smith, the first African American to coach in the Super Bowl, the Colts were prepared for the Bears.

They kicked to the fantastically quick Hester on the opening kickoff, then altered their plans after Hester sprinted 92 yards for a touchdown.

Although Peyton Manning is the most effective passer in the league, they went with a grinding running game, with Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai combining for 190 yards on 40 carries.

Manning got great protection from his offensive line, and peppered seven receivers with catches, including Addai, who caught 10 passes for 66 yards, and Marvin Harrison, who grabbed another five for 59 yards.

Most important, on a nasty night, the Colts controlled the clock, holding onto the ball for more than 38 minutes.

When it was over, two Colts coaches hoisted Dungy onto their shoulders as center Jeff Saturday braced Dungy’s back. They carried the smiling Dungy about 10 yards, then lowered him back onto the ground. Dungy weaved through the confetti and found Smith, whom he embraced.

Then Dungy found Manning, who gave him a high five and draped an arm around Dungy’s slight shoulders.

Later, Manning was named the game’s most valuable player, and referred to Dungy as “our leader.”

“We talked about it,” Dungy said, “and we said it was going to be a storm… . Sometimes you have to work for it.”

Dungy worked for it all right. Now, how much longer will he continue? Another season? A repeat? Or was this soggy night in Miami his last?

Dungy wasn’t ready to commit one way or the other last night. He said he wanted to enjoy this moment before thinking about future ones.

And why not? It was a big night – for him, for his family, for the Colts, and for the city of Indianapolis, which had been hoping for a Super Bowl winner since 1984, when the Colts moved there from Baltimore.

“I just have to say how sweet this is,” Dungy said. “We have a tight-knit group.”

That group, led by its coach, celebrated the sweetest victory last night, and saved thoughts of the future for a date down the road.