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Well, the Cowboys won _ and said Dungy’s comment motivated them.

Dungy doesn’t regret the logic behind the opinion, but it was a lesson in carefully selecting words when you have only a few seconds to express it.

“I’m going to say ‘highly unlikely,’ never ‘no chance,’” he said.

Then there were Peyton Manning’s reviews. Dungy said his former quarterback would send him text messages last season griping, “Hey, you’re giving away too much. You can’t say that. You can’t talk about the hand signals.”

“Yeah, you had your best year,” Dungy said with a laugh. “I couldn’t have been giving away too much.”

Dungy, now 55, planned to work one season and see how it went. It wasn’t until six or seven games in he started to feel at ease.

Meanwhile, the revamped show was beginning to find its groove, as Costas put it. Costas moved to the site of the Sunday night game, with Patrick hosting from the studio with Dungy and Harrison, the recently retired New England Patriots safety.

One Sunday afternoon last month, the New York crew was watching games when several vicious helmet hits happened within minutes. The casual conversation between the two NFL guys turned into pointed remarks on-air that night about how to reduce dangerous hits.

League officials cited the comments in announcing stiffer punishments.

Ebersol considers the show the “first paper of record of what happens each Sunday in the NFL.” That makes for a more serious tone than the pregame shows earlier in the day, which are steeped in predictions.

As with the Olympics, Ebersol wants the Sunday night NFL telecasts to reach not just the hard-core sports fan. He believes Dungy, with his detailed explanations and understated demeanor, is the perfect voice for that.

Just like John Madden. Yes, Madden _ and his “Boom!” _ who unexpectedly retired as the “Sunday Night Football” color commentator while Ebersol was recruiting Dungy.

“Both of them have such a deep abiding love for the game and the people of the game,” Ebersol said. “They come at it in different ways. John was much more emotional, and at other times totally cerebral. To them it has always been about more than winning and losing football games.”


AP Sports Writers Michael Marot in Indianapolis and Dennis Waszak Jr. in Florham Park, N.J., contributed to this story.