"Always look on the bright side of life..." - Monty Python
That has to be Indianapolis Colts' coach Tony Dungy's favorite song. How else could he possibly get to where he's gotten without palettes of patience, virtue, and resiliency?
My choice for the best story of 2007 was the Super Bowl victory by Dungy's Colts over Chicago, making him the first African-American coach to hoist the Lombardi trophy.
It could not have happened to a better coach, man, or human being.
Tony Dungy won one for the good guys.
I'm talking about a class individual that has endured criticism, bad luck, personal loss, and tragedy and never lost sight of his goals. In this day and age, Dungy is a rarity.
His gentle demeanor has always been misconstrued as a weakness. Now it is interpreted as a strength. By looking at him and listening to him speak, you get sideswiped when you read his resume. His life in football is as extensive and diverse as it is impressive and successful.
Dungy was a quarterback in college. He started all four years at the University of Minnesota and left in 1976 as their all-time leader in every major quarterbacking category. At the time of his graduation, Dungy ranked fourth all-time in Big Ten total career yardage.
After a short NFL playing career (as what else—a defensive back!), Dungy turned to coaching in 1980. He began as DB coach at his alma mater, but soon would enter the pro ranks. From 1981-1988 he was DB coach and Defensive Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. From there he went on to coach in similar roles in Kansas City and Minnesota before being named head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996.
Dungy took on the daunting task of turning around a dreadful franchise. Needless to say, he succeeded. Dungy built a club with a tenacious defense, but he failed to get them to the Super Bowl. In 2002, he was released in favor of Jon Gruden. The next season, Tampa Bay would win the Super Bowl.
But the story of Tony Dungy is only beginning.
In 2002, after his dismissal from Tampa, Dungy was hired by the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts were an offense-oriented team that featured a young, strong-armed quarteback by the name of Peyton Manning. It was Dungy's responsibility to temper the offense and augment the defense. Wouldn't you know, he managed to do just that...
From 2003-2006, the Colts won at least 12 or more games and consequently the AFC South title each of those years. They kept falling short in the playoffs, and Dungy was beginning to believe that he was just bit by a snake. A devout Christian whose family had suffered through the suicide death of his son, James, Dungy kept the course.
His patience paid off on February 4th, 2007, when his Colts—after exorcising the Patriots in the AFC Championship game two weeks earlier—defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI. This season, the Colts have won 12 games or more again, the first team in NFL history to win 12 or more five straight seasons.
That is truly an amazing feat. Of all the great coaches in NFL history—Halas, Lombardi, Noll, Landry, Shula, Walsh, Parcells, Gibbs or Belichick—only Dungy can claim that honor.
And he's far from done.
Dungy is an overnight success—27 years in the making.
We salute you, Tony, for your endurance, your faith, your humaneness and most of all—your class. You are the Best of 2007.
Oh, by the way...to this day, Dungy is still the winningest coach in Buccaneer history.