After 31 years of gridiron battles, one of the greatest coaches of our generation is hanging up his cleats. On Monday, January 12, 2009, Tony Dungy, with his wife Lauren at his side, announced his retirement.
We remember the triumphant Super Bowl victory and how he was carried through the field of battle with his great quarterback, Peyton Manning, shouldering him, signaling that the real leader was not the iconoclastic QB from powerhouse Tennessee but the small, thin African-American man from Jackson, Michigan and the QB from not so powerhouse Minnesota. We also remember the tragic headline news of the loss of his son to suicide. As much as we remember his grace in victories, I think I will always remember him for his grace in this loss.
Here is a man who told his team that if they wanted to use foul language they needed to find another team. I know. I heard him say that at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes gathering. I was there with my son to see the Coach. He is a Christian man who doesn’t wear his faith on his sleeve, but follows his Savior in and out of the spotlight. He was and is a true role model.
In a day of whining, cursing, bragging, and bad-boy-behavior that is glamorized and laughed at, Tony Dungy here stands out. And stands apart. But he stands out in the greatest ages of sportsmanship as one of the most noble. Tony Dungy would have shined next to Lombardi or Landry or Stram or Shula. I am sure he will be in a Hall of Fame one day. But more importantly for me is this: here is a man who shined with the grace of Christ in triumph and in tragedy. And that is the greatest lesson he could teach his players, the public, and my son.
I saw his picture in USA Today (January 13, 2009) with his youngest son in his arms. He looked calm and content, with emotions held in by the levy of a life well-lived, a man who knows that losses are always possible. Such is the humility and the faith of a great man. In the picture, his son smiles as his biggest fan, adoring and happy in his father’s arms. What a great picture as we remember the coaching ministry of Tony Dungy.