The NFL will miss the classy and modest Tony Dungy, who retired Monday as the Colts’ coach. As President of the Pro Football Writers of America, I had the honor of presenting Dungy with our Halas Award in 2006 for the grace he displayed during tough times. Dungy’s son, James, had committed suicide the previous December.
My favorite Dungy story involves my mentor Vito Stellino, now of The Florida Times-Union. Vito was covering the Steelers when Dungy was a rookie free agent trying to make Pittsburgh’s roster in 1977. The day during training camp that the Steelers had to cut a bunch of players to reach an NFL roster limit, Vito published his expected cuts.
Dungy read the story, packed his bags and was in the front hallway of the dorm awaiting his ride to the airport when he was spotted by a member of the organization. Asked what he was doing, Dungy explained, “Mr. Stellino said I was cut.” The staffer exploded and ordered Dungy back to his room, telling him that he wasn’t going anywhere. Dungy survived the final cuts and wound up winning a Super Bowl ring the next year in what wouldn’t be an illustrious playing career. Dungy loved telling that story. And I loved hearing it.
Still just 53, Dungy could always return to football, but having endured that family tragedy and being very involved in a fathers’ organization, I don’t think he’ll be back. Besides, Dungy’s 148-79 record, 11 playoff appearances (including his last 10 years) and Super Bowl XLI victory over 13 seasons with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis is a fine legacy.