Dungy: `God has him for eternity'

Colts, league turn out for son's funeral


Lutz, Fla. -- As the Indianapolis Colts marched to their magical run of 13 straight victories to open the 2005 NFL season, coach Tony Dungy's son asked the same question.

"Dad, if we go to the Super Bowl, will I be on the field?"

James Dungy died last week of an apparent suicide, but if the heavy-hearted Colts make it to Detroit, his spirit will be there alongside a father, family and football world that celebrated his memory yesterday.

"We have joy today," Tony Dungy told a congregation estimated at around 2,000 at the Idlewild Baptist Church. "We know that while we had him for 18 short years, God has him now and he has him for eternity."

They came from everywhere, from A-list NFL notables to Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans who just wanted to play their respects to Tony Dungy, one of the most admired men ever to grace a sideline. They prayed. They wept. They rejoiced.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue led a delegation from league headquarters in New York. Six chartered buses ferried around 200 Colts players, coaches and employees from the airport to the church just north of Tampa.

Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer, his sons and general manager Bruce Allen represented Dungy's former team, along with dozens of former and current Buccaneers, including Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Paul Gruber and Warrick Dunn.

Pro Football Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Joe Greene, both teammates of Dungy's in Pittsburgh, were on hand. So were former players, such as Darrell Green, whose lives have been touched by Dungy.

Four NFL coaches - Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio, Arizona's Dennis Green, Chicago's Lovie Smith and the New York Jets' Herman Edwards, whose team played Monday night - paid their respects, as did University of Washington football coach Tyrone Willingham.

None of the outpouring of love and compassion that rained on the family came close to the 19-minute eulogy Dungy delivered as he stood above his son's closed casket.

He called James "a good young man with a compassionate heart," someone who loved to smile and have fun; someone who was loyal.

Dungy spoke of his son's troubles indirectly.

"I think he went through a time as a teenager that he wasn't sure his parents always had the best advice," Dungy said. "He wasn't sure that we always had his best interests at heart."

The coach also reflected on a conversation with his 21-year-old daughter, Tiara, just a few days ago.

"She said, `I wish he could have made it until he was 20, because when you're 17 or 18, sometimes, the things you guys say to us don't always make sense,' " Dungy said. "`When I got to 20, they started making sense again.' "

Dungy paused, then said, "I wish he would have made it to 20."

Chris Harry writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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