Dungy: Return starts the healing process

Associated Press
Published December 30, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS - Two days after burying his son, Tony Dungy hugged his players, his assistant coaches and thanked the public for its support after returning to Indianapolis on Thursday. Then he went right back to work.

One week after leaving the Colts to mourn the death of his oldest son, 18-year-old James, Dungy ran practices, team meetings and announced he would coach Sunday's regular-season finale against Arizona.

"It was the right time to come back," he said somberly after the afternoon workout. "I talked about it with my wife, and we went through the grieving process and now we're starting with the healing process.

"The game, I think, from talking to people who have gone through this kind of thing before, will be easy, but I've never gone through this path. For me, I have some very good memories that bring hurt. When you do things that were very special and joyful, that's hard. But every day gets a little easier."

Dungy left the team Dec. 22 when James was found dead in a Tampa area apartment.

"It's great to have him back," team president Bill Polian said. "It's been a long ordeal for him and his family, and I think it will be a long, long time before they have a sense of peace and consolation. But I hope this is one place he can find some peace and consolation."

Dungy said he spent Wednesday with his family at Lowry Park Zoo, discussed the decision with his wife, Lauren, and flew back to Indianapolis late Wednesday night with his other teenage son, Eric. At about 7:45 a.m. - his usual arrival time - Dungy walked into the Colts complex and was greeted with embraces, handshakes and condolences.

"It was like a sigh of relief. He gave everyone a big hug," linebacker David Thornton said.

BENGALS: Cincinnati reworked and extended quarterback Carson Palmer's contract, gaining salary cap flexibility and a chance to keep its franchise quarterback through 2014. The Bengals added six years to a deal that still had three to go, providing Palmer with a chance to make $118.75-million in salary and bonuses over the next nine years. "Hopefully this is the last place I'll end up playing," Palmer said. "That's so rare in this league these days. And I feel very fortunate that it looks like that's going to be my future." Several offensive linemen have contracts expiring in the next two years. Palmer hopes the club uses the flexibility from his restructured deal to keep them.

BROWNS: For avid fan Nathan Mallett, facing time in jail for running onto the field during a blowout loss to the Steelers is not the worst of it. Even a body slam by Pittsburgh's James Harrison didn't hurt as much as the thought that the Browns might ban Mallett from home games. "That is probably the worst part of it. I guess I'll still watch them on TV," Mallett said Tuesday after pleading innocent in Cleveland Municipal Court to disorderly conduct while intoxicated and criminal trespassing. Mallett, 24, of Chippewa Lake, has a Tuesday trial date. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Team spokesman Bill Bonsiewicz said banning Mallett is a possibility.

JAGUARS: Quarterback Byron Leftwich says his mending left ankle is getting better. Leftwich broke the ankle Nov. 27 against Arizona and has been out since. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday and said he hopes to be ready when the Jaguars open the playoffs Jan. 7 or 8. His status for Sunday's final regular-season game with Tennessee remains a question. "He looks rested," receiver Jimmy Smith said. "He was bouncing around out there. As bad as it was for him to have the injury, it may turn out to be a good thing as he's rested and looking sharp."

RAIDERS: Charles Woodson was put on injured reserve, ending the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback's season and possibly signaling the end of his career in Oakland. Woodson, 29, has not played since breaking his right leg Oct. 23. Woodson would earn nearly $13-million in 2006 if the Raiders keep the franchise tag on him, and the team has many other problems to address.

RAVENS: Jim Fassel will return as offensive coordinator next year unless he receives a head-coaching position elsewhere. "We're going to be very supportive of Jim's looking and hopefully being able to procure a head-coaching job. I think Jim would be outstanding," coach Brian Billick said. "If indeed that doesn't happen, Jim will be back next year." The Ravens, 25th in total offense, improved the past two games, outscoring the Packers and Vikings 78-26.

MNF RATINGS DROP: Monday Night Football ratings were the program's lowest in its 36-year run on ABC, down 2 percent from a year ago. The 17 weekly telecasts were watched in an average 10.8 percent of the 110.2-million U.S. homes with televisions, according to Nielsen Media Research Inc.

EX-BRONCO DIES: Clint Sampson, a former wide receiver for Denver in the 1980s, died Sunday in a car accident in Los Angeles. He was 44. The third-round pick in the 1983 draft out of San Diego State was a member of the 1986 team that advanced to the Super Bowl. He finished his career with 66 catches for 1,014 yards and eight touchdowns, then worked with underprivileged children.