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INDIANAPOLIS - The Colts wanted to emulate Tony Dungy's businesslike approach Thursday. But their thoughts were with their missing coach.
Hours after learning Dungy's 18-year-old son, James, was found dead in his Lutz apartment, the Colts players walked somberly into their locker room and each reflected on the shocking news. Some sat in stunned silence. A few talked with team chaplains.
Others spoke in hushed tones, and the normal locker room card games and video games were abandoned.
"It breaks your heart to see something like that happen to such a great person," receiver Brandon Stokley said. "We're just going to pray for him and ask everybody else to pray for him."
Colts players were informed of the death Thursday morning when owner Jim Irsay and team president Bill Polian spoke at a team meeting.
Players were told Dungy had flown to Florida and would be out indefinitely. It's unlikely Dungy will coach the Colts on Saturday at Seattle.
Irsay also addressed the team after Thursday's practice.
Assistant coach Jim Caldwell, who also coaches quarterbacks, will take over in Dungy's absence. But as the scheduled practices and meetings continued Thursday, the players' thoughts were with their cherished leader or his family.
"Players were surprised and upset emotionally about it," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Everybody said a team prayer for Coach Dungy and his family. It's laying on the hearts of all the players here."
It wasn't just the Colts whose thoughts were with Dungy.
A few fans left flowers and mementos in a tribute outside the RCA Dome, prompting the Colts to issue a request that flowers be sent to a church in Indianapolis.
Polian's voice even cracked and his hands trembled as he answered questions during a 15-minute news conference at the team's practice facility.
"We have the greatest role model there is in Tony Dungy," Polian said. "And as Jim said to the team (Thursday) morning, we'll emulate our leader."
From Dungy's standpoint, that means getting back to football and moving forward.
"He's an amazing individual with great strength and integrity, even in the toughest times," Caldwell said after Thursday's practice. "He told us to carry on as usual."
Stokley, whose infant son was seriously ill with bacterial meningitis in January 2004, said football can help provide a respite.
Linebacker Gary Brackett, who had three relatives - his mother, father and a brother - die during an 16-month span beginning in late 2003, said he agreed.
And perhaps, they suggested, that's the environment the Colts need right now.
"Any time you're on the field, it's a place you can run around free and not think of all the outside influences," Brackett said. "It helps."
Dungy was in the midst of his best season as a coach. He won his 100th game in October, wrapped up homefield advantage for the first time in 10 seasons as a coach and helped lead the Colts to a 13-0 mark, becoming the fourth team in league history to achieve that feat before they lost 26-17 Sunday to San Diego.
One day earlier, the locker room was abuzz with the news that the Colts had put seven players on the AFC's Pro Bowl team, the most by the franchise since 1971.
Thursday, the death hit hard, especially for players who have children.
"It's an extremely sad day and an extremely sad time," center Jeff Saturday said. "We want to handle ourselves in the way Coach wants us to."
The message Dungy left for his players was to persevere.
He wants the Colts to regain their momentum before the playoffs start, and he believes in Caldwell's ability to guide the Colts. Caldwell formerly coached at Wake Forest.
The Colts intend to follow the plan, as difficult as that might seem.
"It has to go on, and Coach Dungy has done a great job," linebacker David Thornton said. "Coach Dungy wants us to practice hard, stay focused and get a win.
"This will be a true test for a championship team, it will show you our character and how we react to adversity. And we're all thinking of Coach Dungy."