TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–The 10th annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration turned into a lively, sustained tribute to recently retired Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy for his faith in Jesus Christ and his mentoring of others.
“We all owe Tony a great debt because he set the bar so high for all of us coaches,” said newly hired Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris, who was picked by Dungy for his first NFL job.
Several of Dungy’s fellow coaches and former players took time out of their busy Friday night, 48 hours before Super Bowl XLIII, to honor Dungy, whom they consider a champion on the field and off.
“I am so glad to honor a great friend, a great coach and a future Hall of Famer in Tony Dungy,” said Chicago head coach Lovie Smith, whose Bears lost to Dungy’s Colts two years ago at Super Bowl XLI in Miami.
The highlight of the evening, held at the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome, came when Dungy was presented with a large framed photo of him coaching the Indianapolis Colts with the words, “2009 Lifetime of Inspiration Award.” At the bottom of the picture were the words of Psalm 37:23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way.”
The surprise gift brought the crowd of more than 6,000, which included Chicago-based activist Jesse Jackson, to their feet with a prolonged standing ovation.
Smith said he would “do anything for Tony because he has done so much for me and my life.”
“I always knew I wanted to coach a different way and Tony showed us a different picture. You could coach without cursing, without shouting or losing your faith. He showed a different way and was able to win. That was the main thing,” Smith said.
Like many of the tributes he received while coaching and since his retirement, Dungy turned the human praise back to Jesus.
“So many [NFL] players have roots in the Lord,” Dungy said, “and to see them here on Friday night, 48 hours before the biggest game of the year, when all you’ve heard all week is game, game, game, is encouraging.”
Many players and coaches have cited Dungy’s influence in the growing trend of high-profile players and coaches publicly proclaiming their faith in Christ. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, another Dungy disciple, gave his first testimony in the national spotlight at this year’s Super Bowl media day.
Dungy said the late Reggie White, a Hall of Fame defensive end, “was really the first to boldly share his faith and make it more acceptable…. [O]ne of my goals was really to share with people about God in a way they would accept it,” Dungy said.
“If that’s my legacy, than that’s one of the things I’m proud of.”
Dungy became the winningest coach in Tampa Bay history before moving to Indianapolis and leading the Colts to a Super Bowl championship.
The NFL title “changed my life because maybe people saw me in a different light,” Dungy said, “but my life and my message will never change.”
Since retiring after the 2008 playoffs, Dungy has been traveling much of the time to speak about his new book, “Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance,” the follow-up to his No. 1 bestseller “Quiet Strength.” The new book, released Jan. 27, goes more in depth into training men and women on following God’s ways in whatever they do.
“It’s really a book from my heart on taking the uncommon road of Christ, which is often the narrow road, instead of the common road so many people choose,” Dungy said.
With the release of Uncommon and being out of coaching for the first time in more than three decades, Dungy said he’s concentrating on finding what the Lord has for him next.
“I had a platform [for Christ] for 13 years as a head coach and I didn’t take it for granted,” Dungy said.
“I have some passions for kids and other things and what I’m asking the Lord to do is match that up with what He would want me to do next.”
For Dungy’s colleagues — Smith, Tomlin, Morris and the recently dismissed Chiefs head coach Herman Edwards — they are determined to carry on his — and more importantly Christ’s — legacy.
“We are all proud to be part of Dungy’s coaching tree, his Christian tree,” Smith said, “and see it filter down to me and Mike [Tomlin] and Raheem [Morris].”
Since making it to the Super Bowl against Dungy’s Colts, Smith’s Bears have struggled to return to the playoffs. But Smith said he will continue to apply the lessons Dungy taught and God has been perfecting in his life.
“As Christians, one thing people have to realize is that God has a plan for your life,” Smith said. “Now, it may not always be a straight road or what we had planned, but in the end Christians will always come out on top.”
Art Stricklin is a Dallas-based correspondent for Baptist Press who covered Super Bowl-related activities in Tampa, Fla.