"Keep the faith' at heart of Dungy

OTHER VOICES

The Kickoff

March 29, 2006|By DAVID WHITLEY | DAVID WHITLEY,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Tony Dungy is back at work now. He looks like the same person he's always been.

Then he'll get a flash.

"Something happens," Dungy said. "Some trigger will go off."

He'll have to stop. Losing a son to suicide brings pain and questions that will never go away.

"You'll always have those moments," Dungy said.

He got the news two days before Christmas. A few weeks later, his Indianapolis Colts endured a devastating end to what had been a dream season.

There is no comparing the two, of course. But no matter the tragedy or triumph, Dungy remains the same. There is a serenity that leaves people wondering.

How does he do it? Hundreds came to comfort him at his son's funeral in Tampa. Dungy got up and gave a eulogy that lifted the building.

Losing to Pittsburgh in the playoffs when Mike Vanderjagt botched a tying field goal? The only crack Dungy showed was a slight wince as he said, "He missed it."

Indianapolis is still in mourning. Dungy is in Orlando, Fla., at the NFL owners meetings, enthused as ever about next year.

Yesterday morning, he was at the AFC coaches' breakfast, answering questions about the addition of Adam Vinatieri and the loss of Edgerrin James. This weekend, he'll be at the Orlando Festival with Luis Palau, a faith-based sports and music carnival, trying to answer that other question.

How does he do it? "You understand God is in control of even what we think are tragic circumstances," Dungy said. "That gives you something the world doesn't understand."

He wishes it did, but just mentioning religion makes some uncomfortable. Dungy has never forced his views on anyone. But they have shaped him. He could no more deny that than cuss out Peyton Manning after another playoff pratfall.

"My religion," Dungy said, "is who I am."

Judge the results for yourself.

He may not have a Super Bowl ring as coach, but nobody in the league carries as much respect.

He's the first to say his faith doesn't make him special. It certainly hasn't immunized him from the cruelties of life.

Suicide rarely makes any sense, but this was baffling. James, 18, had been given all the advantages, all the support, all the love a kid could have.

For all his faith, Dungy couldn't help asking the questions.

"Why did it have to happen?" he said. "Why isn't he here with us?"

There are no satisfying answers. Accepting that is one of the hardest parts of all.

"That's when I wonder," Dungy said. "If I didn't believe this life isn't the only thing, then it would be extremely tough."

His compassion just makes the whole thing more confounding. For years, Dungy suffered with dignity as he was passed over for head coaching jobs. He never played racial politics, but worked quietly to improve the system.

He resurrected Tampa Bay, then was fired. Yet he proudly watched as Jon Gruden guided his players to a Super Bowl win a year later. Every season, the Colts' hearts are shattered in the playoffs. Every year, Dungy collects the pieces and gives it a better try.

"John the Baptist was beheaded," he chuckled. "So not everything ends up like a fairy tale."

Sometimes, the most accurate kicker in NFL history misses.

Sometimes, you get calls in the middle of the night with the most horrifying news a parent could hear.

Either way, Dungy remains who he is. "No matter what happens," he said, "you have to keep looking forward."

Even if the world doesn't understand how.

David Whitley writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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