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SPORTS: Calm on display just days before the big game

November 5, 2007

On the morning of Oct. 30, just five days before the NFL's Game of the Century, Regular-Season Variety, I imagine-but don't know for certain-that New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was hunkered down in some office bunker at the Patriots training complex, bags under his eyes, hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head, scowl on his face.

Certainly, he was poring over game films of the Indianapolis Colts, searching for clues that would help his team continue on its scorched-earth mission to become the greatest team in NFL history.

At that same time, nearly a thousand miles to the west, his counterpart, Colts Coach Tony Dungy, was at a private reception where he autographed copies of his book, "Quiet Strength." Minutes later, he took center stage at the latest event in Indianapolis Business Journal's Power Breakfast series, where he entertained questions from yours truly, IBJ Publisher Chris Katterjohn and some in the sold-out audience of nearly 900 at the Westin Hotel downtown.

Dungy was polite, relaxed and calm. His demeanor was what you'd expect at some off-season activity. You never would have guessed he would be on the other sideline of professional football's Armageddon five days hence.

He was there for a reason, which was to promote and accept a sizable donation to his All-Pro Dads youth mentoring organization. By doing so, he demonstrated-once again-the amazing balance he is able to achieve while living in the maelstrom of the NFL, especially this week of all weeks.

And by doing so, he demonstrated-once again-how fortunate Indianapolis is that this humble man accepted owner Jim Irsay's invitation to come to the Colts after Tampa Bay fired him

I'm not breaking any journalistic ground here when I recognize Dungy as the antithesis of those who dwell in big-time professional sports. He's a relative whisperer in a realm of screamers-virtually without ego in a world where sense of self is normally obese. Yes, winning at a high level is his bottom line (after all, that's why he's in Indy, and not Tampa Bay) and we would not praise his low-key approach if it were not accompanied by consistent achievements from his team, up to and including that Super Bowl triumph.

Still, it's worth noting his ability to place it all in such perspective-his understanding of his pursuit of a higher purpose for which football is merely a vehicle.

That's why, he told the IBJ audience, he chose to return to the Colts following the Super Bowl win.

"I thought everybody likes to go out on top so this might be the time," Dungy said. "But I also realized I'd never have a bigger platform to talk about family, All-Pro Dads, my faith, community work, all the things that are so important to me. And the other thing was, we've just got such a great group of guys who are so much fun to coach. You couldn't have a better working environment than the one Jim Irsay has created. So rather than step out on top, I decided I'd like to stay on top for a few more years."

Dungy said he'd actually gotten "more satisfaction" from the success of his book-a fixture on the New York Times best-seller list since its publication this summer-than the Super Bowl win. That's because, he said, "I've gotten so many calls and letters from people saying they really got something out of it, something that helped them."

He also related the details of his first conversation with Irsay, after which he decided Indianapolis would be his next stop.

"I was contemplating what the Lord would want me to do. God had something special in mind ... ," Dungy said. "We talked for about an hour and we never talked about strategy, we never talked about X's and O's, we never talked football. We talked about Jim's vision for the team and how it was going to fit into the community. He said, 'We've come here from Baltimore. We don't have life-long Colts fans, people who have grown up with it. We've got to connect with the community.'

"So that's another thing I was thinking about in those last seconds of the Super Bowl ... yeah, we really have developed that sense with the community."

Without question, the Super Bowl sealed that bond. But there were those who were saying beforehand-and I'm raising my

hand here-that Dungy's graceful representation of the Colts and the city meant far more than even having that shiny Lombardi Trophy in hand.

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