Coach Tony Dungy
Note: Today it was learned that Tony Dungy's oldest son died in his Tampa, Florida apartment. I had been working on an article for Thideology about Coach Dungy. I did not want to write about his success as a coach in the NFL but about his character. Now, in light of this terrible family tragedy, this article seems so much more appropriate.
I had already heard of Tony Dungy before he was hired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. I had heard he was a man of integrity. One who had his priorities straight. One who knew that there are more important things in life than football. I had heard he was a man of uncompromising faith who, without apology, believed in Jesus Christ.
This is why I was so excited to learn, in 2002, that he was coming to Indianapolis. I had been living in Indy since 1998 and was already a die-hard Colts fan. I was excited to have such a man come to coach "my" team. But I also began to speculate about the possibility of interviewing him for the Indiana Baptist, the official news journal of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, of which I was editor. I wanted to write a story about the challenges a Christian faces when Sunday is a workday. How does a believer remain spiritually fed when 16 Sundays a year (sometimes more) access to the preaching, teaching, and fellowship of the local church is limited?
Of course, when a new coach comes to town he is inundated with interview requests. When I contacted the Colts office I was given instructions on how to make an official request for an interview. I had to submit, in writing, the publication for which I was making the request, the circulation, and the nature of my proposed story. I could expect to wait a week to two weeks for a response after they received my request. When I explained I was the editor of a relatively small religious publication I was told my chances of being granted an interview were slim. So I was extremely surprised when a couple of days later I received a telephone call informing me I’d been scheduled for an interview with Coach Dungy.
I was invited to attend a practice at the Colts complex so I could take pictures. Radio broadcaster Bob Lamey, “The Voice of the Colts,” was my personal guide through the facility.
“After practice,” he told me, “The members of the media gather at one corner of the field to meet with Coach Dungy. He gives them five to ten minutes and that’s about it.”
I made sure I was near that spot at the end of practice. I did not want to miss my chance. As Dungy approached I started to gather with the other reporters when Lamey stopped me with a tap to my arm. "Not you," he said.
I watched Coach Dungy answer questions (pictured at left) about the strength of the Colts' offense, the weakness of the defense, special teams play and so on. After about ten minutes Coach Dungy thanked everyone, excused himself, and walked in my direction.
"Is this him?" Dungy asked indicating me.
"Yes," Lamey replied.
After we introduced ourselves to one another I followed Coach Dungy to his office where we visited for the better part of an hour. This amazed me. Here I was, sitting in his office chit-chatting while every other reporter had to hurry through their questions for fear of running out of time.
I wondered why he would spend so much time with me, the editor of a publication I'm sure he'd never heard of before, and so little with the others.
Because, it was explained to me, all they wanted to talk about was football. You came to ask him about Jesus.
In my next entry I'll share the story I wrote as a result of that interview.
Note: I have enjoyed this NFL season more than any I can remember. "My" Colts have finally added one of the best defenses in the league to an already potent offense. They stand poised to make a run through the playoffs at the Super Bowl and are considered by many to be the favorite. Today's news has changed that for me. If the Colts don't win another game this season I won't care. The loss of Dungy's son has reminded me that football is just a game. It's also reminded me of the main reason I root for the Colts...they are led by a man whose priorities never let him forget what's important. I have no idea the pain Coach Dungy and his family must be enduring now. But there is One who does. My prayers are with him. May the God he openly professes as Lord grant him grace and peace.
As the Colts play out the rest of their season I will root for them harder than I ever have before. The ironic thing is this, after considering the character of the man who leads them and his current situation, I will probably care less than I ever have before about the outcome on the field.