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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
MIAMI - This one is for the good guys. From the looks of it, they enjoy winning just as much as the scoundrels.
Riding on the shoulders of his players, Tony Dungy wasn't really that high in the air, maybe six feet or so. From the look on his face, however, he was on top of the world.
There he was, in the middle of football's promised land, the rain and the cheers and the emotions pouring over him. He smiled and pumped his fists, and if you wanted to pump yours in time, that was okay, too.
Dungy is a champion, now and forever.
And forever, perceptions have changed. About Dungy's resume, about his race, about his team.
The Colts are Dungy's team, all right. They were calm despite the chaos, patient despite the turbulence. All in all, they were positively Dungylike in their 29-17 victory over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI Sunday night.
This was the keeper snapshot of Dungy, guiding his team through the driving rain, keeping it upright when things got slippery. A whole lot of things went wrong for the Colts early, fumbles and follies and flubs, and still his team maintained its poise. The Colts came from eight points behind. They withstood the weather. They won the game.
"The Lord doesn't always take you in a straight line," Dungy said. "He's going to test you sometimes. There is going to be a storm. Sometimes, you've got to work for it."
This one is for broken barriers. If you don't think it mattered, you haven't been playing close enough attention.
With this victory, Dungy, 51, is the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl (and Bears coach Lovie Smith, his former assistant with the Bucs, became the first to lose one). Dungy is also the third to win a Super Bowl as a player and coach, joining Tom Flores and Mike Ditka.
Don't you think that Chiefs coach Herm Edwards celebrated Dungy's win? Don't you think Steelers coach Mike Tomlin felt good about it? And Marvin Lewis of the Bengals and Romeo Crennel of the Browns? How about Jimmy Raye and Sherman Lewis and Lionel Taylor, longtime assistants who never had a chance to be a head coach because of their race? Of course it mattered. Dungy dedicated the victory to them.
"I know I shouldn't have been the first," Dungy said as he stood in the middle of a jammed locker room. "I was representing the guys who came before me, the guys who recruited me, the guys who mentored me.
"The Lord gave Lovie and me the opportunity, but we're certainly not the best, not the most qualified. I know some other guys who could have done it. I was happy to represent those guys who paved the way for me."
This one was for the critics. And they know who they are.
A lot of Colts slew dragons Sunday night. Peyton Manning. Marvin Harrison. Most of all, Dungy.
Now, which big one can't Dungy win?
This one was for staying the course. This one was for believing when a lot of people doubted.
When the story of this team is told, it will start back in December when things were at their worst. There for a while, the middle of the Colts' run defense looked like an open gate to the end zone.
It was the kind of ugly that prompts some coaches to make drastic changes, most of which make things worse. Not Dungy. A few tweaks, and sure enough, the Colts were a much better defense in the playoffs.
Always, he has trusted the blueprint. When others would rant, he would reason. When others turned tyrant, he became a teacher.
"That's what has driven me to stay in coaching," Dungy said. "I wanted to show that there are a lot of ways to win. You don't have to have a mean streak. You can treat people with respect."
This one was for Jamie. At a time such as this, a father remembers a son.
How could he not think of Jamie, who committed suicide a bit more than a year ago, at such a moment? After all, Jamie grew up tagging along behind his dad on this football field and that. In one of the final conversations between the two, Jamie told his dad he wanted to be on the sideline with him at the Super Bowl.
This one was for the resume. Hopefully, it was not the final chapter.
Dungy dodged questions about his future after the game, but for years, he has said that he would not coach into his old age. For the last three or four years, he says, he has taken his time before deciding if he would return. Clyde Christensen, Dungy's longtime assistant, suggested last week that the odds of Dungy's return were 50-50.
The NFL needs Dungy to stick around. At a time when coaches are pushing injured players to play, when coaches are skipping around the truth to bolt out of town, the league needs Dungy to emulate.
Dungy said he would talk about his situation with his wife, Lauren, and with team owner Jim Irsay. But he didn't sound like a man looking for an exit.
"We've got a lot of work to do," he said.
This one was for old friends and ex-players and former co-workers. It was for Indianapolis and for Tampa Bay and everywhere else he has left footprints.