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Finding faith in himself

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000


TAMPA -- It may go down in the books as just another moment in the great history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it's not that way for Tony Dungy.

On Jan. 21, 1979, when the Steelers rolled over the Cowboys 35-31 to win their third Super Bowl title, Dungy was a second-year player reveling in one of the greatest moments an athlete can have.

But more than that, it was a time Dungy put the final touches on how his Christian faith would affect his athletic career and the rest of his life.

"That year, at the start of training camp, I had mononucleosis, and I couldn't practice for about four weeks in camp," Dungy said. "I was worried about all kinds of things, and Donnie Shell was my roommate at the time. He told me he felt like it was the Lord testing me to see if football was No. 1 in my life or my commitment to Christ.

"I had to really examine myself and think about whether or not football was the most important thing. When I came to the conclusion that it wasn't, that's when I got started and . . . ended up leading the team in interceptions that year. We went to the Super Bowl and won it, and that was probably the beginning of me placing my priorities in the right spot."

Being with the Steelers was indeed the right spot for Dungy. Under the coaching of Chuck Noll -- Dungy patterns the essence of his coaching style after him -- and playing with teammates such as Shell and receiver John Stallworth, provided Dungy with the competition and comfort he needed to adjust to being a Christian in the NFL.

"Fortunately for me, I got placed in a great situation because Donnie and John were probably my two best friends on the team, and those two guys were Pro Bowl players, but they had life in the right perspective," Dungy said. "I wasn't in an isolated situation. But I guess in some ways it was probably more difficult (to be a Christian) back then because it wasn't as popular to stand up to your faith and speak up.

"There weren't a lot of guys like Reggie White who got the public notoriety. You were fighting the public perception that football players were this, this and this. And if you weren't in that mold, the team likely didn't want you around. But we had a lot of great players who were good people, and that really helped out."

Q: Were you the same person then you are now?

A: A lot of things are probably similar. I was probably more competitive and high strung (back then). People say I have a calm demeanor now, but I wasn't always like that. This is going to be hard to believe, but I probably did a little bit of trashing talking back then. I know, I know. But I probably would not do that today. I'm sure I wouldn't do it now. Of course, it was reserved trash talking. I hope so. But honestly, I was a little more emotional than than I am now.

Q: If you could share some advice with the Tony Dungy back then, what would it be?

A: I would probably tell myself that although you're at the pinnacle of NFL football right now, it's not the biggest and most important thing in life. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs, so just enjoy the good time right now and know that that's not necessarily reality.

Q: Was there someone back then you looked up to?

A: We had a lot of good role models on our team at that time and just going through that season and watching and being around my teammates, like Joe Green, Franco Harris and Jack Ham and guys like that -- watching how they handled success and what they did to go out of their way to be the best that they could be. I loved how they won with class, and when we lost, it was with class. I think that taught me more than anything. Just being around those guys was great.

SUPER BOWL XIII

Jan. 21, 1979

Miami

Steelers 35, Cowboys 31

MVP: Terry Bradshaw, Steelers quarterback (17-of-30 for 318 yards and a Super Bowl-record four TD passes).

IN THE NEWS: Jan. 7: Vietnam and Cambodian insurgents announce the fall of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, and the Pol Pot regime's collapse. Jan. 16: The shah leaves Iran after a year of turmoil. Feb. 1-on: Revolutionaries under Muslim leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini take over in Iran. March 28: Conservatives win the British election; Margaret Thatcher becomes prime minister. March 28: Radiation is released during a nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island, Pa. Nov. 4: Iranian militants seize the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and take hostages. Dec. 27: The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.

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