We take a momentary pause from political campaigns, but not necessarily from politics, to pay proper homage to Tony Dungy and the impact he has had on Tampa and beyond.
He joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor Monday night at Raymond James Stadium, and no one deserved it more. The Ring is symbolic of his football success, of course, but anyone who knows Dungy understands football is just part of his legacy.
“Tony Dungy’s impact on the Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay community is not measured in terms of wins and losses,” Bucs owner and Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer said.
“Tony transformed our entire organization and established a winning culture that set the foundation for the most successful era in our franchise’s history. Through his exceptional leadership, Tony set a new benchmark for excellence on and off the field that we still strive to achieve to this day.”
Dungy was head coach of the Bucs’ from 1996 through 2001 at a time when few self-respecting coaches wanted to tackle that job. Their uniforms were ugly, and their play was worse. They were known derisively as the Yucks, perpetual losers without hope. Dungy showed them otherwise and built the foundation of a team that would win the Super Bowl a year after he was fired when ownership soured on playoff failures.
He left with class and honor and returned to Tampa with more of the same after his coaching days were done.
He is a caring, grounded, firm voice of reason in turbulent times. His moral compass points true north. He cares deeply for the disenfranchised and needy. He won and lost with equal grace.
In other words, he is just like we wish politicians would be.
Seriously, imagine (and you’ll have to) how much different the Florida Legislature, or Congress, or (yep, I’m going there) the Oval Office would be if a majority of those lawmakers were cut from Dungy’s cloth.
As you may have heard, National Football League players aren’t all choir boys. Yet, Tony Dungy stayed true to himself not only as a coach but also when he was a player. He didn’t let the game corrupt him. I remember chatting with him in the locker room after his Indianapolis Colts clinched a trip to the Super Bowl — Dungy’s first as a head coach.
There were only a couple of us around, and the locker room was empty. I asked him about going to the big game, and he said it was gratifying because it was validation that an NFL coach could be successful without cussing, screaming, or compromising his values.
What if Tallahassee operated like that?
For decades in football, players have been coached to be mobile, agile, and hostile. Dungy could stand in the middle of that caldron and rule with a quiet voice that commanded the respect of even the most aggressive player.
It worked because they recognized who Dungy is and what he stands for.
It’s a pipe dream, of course, to think Tony Dungy would ever run for public office, but if he did everyone could be sure he couldn’t be bought. I’ve never talked in-depth with him about politics, but my guess is he would be a conservative, but with a caveat.
He would strip away ideology and find a way to see that the most vulnerable citizens in the state had proper care. He wouldn’t be caught in any scandals and would be pro-education.
He would be pro-human, and wouldn’t treat those whose politics might be different as trash to be trampled underfoot. Tony Dungy would work to find common ground.
Unfortunately, these days that’s about all we can do. But what a world it would be.