In eye of storm, Dungy calmly sails to victory

February 05, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

MIAMI -- Tony Dungy probably didn't even get wet.

The first black coach to lead a team to a Super Bowl championship did it in a torrential downpour - that figures - and did it by imitating a stroll in the park on a clear spring day. By doing that, he set the tone for his team to remain just as placid and unruffled when almost any other team would have been at least a little flustered.

He's been tormented by playoff near-misses, fired for not being "tough" enough, haunted by a personal loss (the suicide of his son last season) that far surpassed any on the field, and lashed to a quarterback who similarly was considered incapable of winning the big one. But today, Dungy and his Indianapolis Colts are NFL champions, by a 29-17 verdict, and it's because they stayed so unshakably, unnervingly cool.

Didn't raise their voices, didn't raise their heart rates - all Dungy, Manning and the Colts raised was the Lombardi Trophy.

"We said there was going to be a storm," Dungy said on the podium with trophy in hand. "We said the Lord doesn't always bring you directly there. Sometimes you have to work for it."

No team in Super Bowl history ever has taken a first punch like the one the Colts took last night at soaking wet Dolphin Stadium. The first return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the game's 41 years, by the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester, shook up the pre-game prognostications nicely. So did the interception Manning threw on the Colts' first possession.

The bad signs kept coming: a mishandled snap on what would have been a game-tying extra point. A fumble right after recovering a Bears fumble. A touchdown that deepened the Colts' deficit, fueled by, yes, a big shot at their notoriously soft run defense. A reaction to Hester's kickoff return that made one wonder if he were carrying not a football, but an infectious disease. A 14-6 hole, a pro-Bears crowd ready to bring its team home.

And ... by the middle of the second quarter, the Colts had the lead. For good.

This is what makes Dungy unique. Yes, by playing Neil Armstrong to Lovie Smith's Buzz Aldrin and beating him on that first footstep on the moon, he took his place in the pantheon of football, sports, societal and cultural heroes. He may have come along after Bill Russell, John Thompson and the other barrier-breaking coaches from other sports, but by doing it in the Super Bowl, he separated himself.

But what really separates him is how he did it.

As everybody knows by now, hollering, cursing, berating and belittling is not and never will be Dungy's style; for him, calm works better. It worked two weeks ago in Indianapolis when the Colts chipped away at both a 21-3 deficit and the Patriots' aura a little bit at a time.

It worked again last night.

"It's not the way you want to start," Manning said, referring to a 7-0 deficit 14 seconds into his first trip to the big game. "We stayed together, never panicked and came away with a great win."

Until this year - when he did it four straight weeks - none of that was Manning's strong point in postseason games. It's the difference between regular-season MVPs and Super Bowl MVPs, which Manning now gets, firsthand.

The coach and player have said - about the other more than about themselves - that their careers should not be defined by their playoff shortcomings. Still, that was their fate. The high expectations for Manning seemed a burden to him. Dungy embraced his, but he did have the extra weight that came from society's notion that coaches of a certain color didn't deserve equal opportunity until one of them won it all.

They both slayed their dragons in one night.

The Colts' one big adjustment last night, kicking away from Hester, never came back to haunt them. Otherwise, they stuck to the game plan. They kept running Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, kept throwing it all over the place, to Marvin Harrison and Dallas Clark, lots of times to Addai and one big time to Reggie Wayne. The rock-hard Bears defense kept softening up.

It was cool and clinical. And boring - but mainly because every second made it more obvious that the Bears were out of their league.

Maybe Dungy knew it. On the final play of the first half, with the Colts lining up for a chip-shot field-goal attempt by automatic Adam Vinatieri, with dueling timeouts being called and the skies gushing, Dungy was strolling along the sideline, hands in his pockets, glancing up at the scoreboard.

Walk in the park. Even after Vinatieri uncharacteristically yanked the kick wide left. They still left with a two-point lead and were getting the ball to start the second half. Then, nibble, nibble, nibble - 13 plays, 56 yards, 7 minutes, 34 seconds and a field goal.

Good night, Bears. Drive home safely.

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