View Full Version : Dungy we know today was softened by the Steel Curtain

06-24-2009, 12:16 PM
Dungy we know today was softened by the Steel Curtain
By Jennifer Allen | NFL Network

Only five months have passed since Tony Dungy retired from coaching football. Much of his free time is now spent helping a Tampa-based prison ministry group, visiting institutions throughout the state of Florida. Talking with Dungy, you get a sense that he no longer hungers for the world of X's and O's. To those who know him, this comes as no surprise.

In his coaching days, Dungy was clearly one of the more even-keeled leaders in the league. He often attributed his composure to the fact that his priorities were in proper order: faith, family, football. But 32 years ago, when Dungy first entered the league as a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, football came first in his life. It took the guidance of the Steel Curtain and the advice of a future Hall of Fame coach to set Dungy on the right track.

"Football is not life -- it's your life's work," Steelers coach Chuck Noll would often remind Dungy and his fellow teammates. "It's your profession, but it's not your life."

Noll's advice was difficult for Dungy to digest. It was the summer of 1977 and Dungy was a 6-foot-1, 180-pound free-agent rookie quarterback out of the University of Minnesota trying to earn a spot on a team that just missed going to its third straight Super Bowl. Every time he heard Noll say, "Football is not your life," Dungy would say to himself, "Sure it is! That's why I'm here! I'm trying to make the team! I want to be on this team! I'm going to give it everything I got."

After going undrafted in the NFL, Dungy was offered a $50,000 signing bonus to play for the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes. But Dungy had set his sights all along on the NFL, and he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers for $2,200 -- with the promise of another $20,000 if he made the team. Making the team seemed to be a highly challenging task. At first, Dungy was moved out of the quarterback slot and positioned as a backup behind wide receiver John Stallworth. And then, two weeks into training camp, Dungy was moved across the line of scrimmage to play safety.

Realizing the rookie was out of his offensive element, defensive coaches let him borrow a 16mm projector to study film at night.

Football was not his life?

Night after night, he remained holed up in his dorm room studying the nickel and dime defenses. To Dungy, it felt like his entire life had been headed to this ultimate test: Could he make a pro team?

Dungy had dreamed of playing pro ball ever since he was a small-town 14-year-old quarterback breaking records at Frost Junior High in Jackson, Mich.

"I was probably like most teens. I was very focused on playing sports and had a little bit of a one-track mind," Dungy said.

Back then, he says he was a "hot head" known as much for his success as he was for losing his cool as a quarterback or fouling out in basketball.

"I was a technical-foul guy. I was a guy who wasn't always under control," he explained. "I wanted it so bad. I was very passionate."

Dungy can still clearly recall getting thrown out of a high school basketball game for fighting.

"I felt this guy was, you know, guarding me too tight, and fouling me, and trying to take me out -- and he did, he took me out of my game.

"I can remember my dad talking to me after the game, and he said, 'You know, you hurt your team. You didn't hurt the other team. You hurt yourself. You got to get your emotions in check and use them to motivate you the right way.'"

And now, at his first NFL training camp, Dungy felt his extreme passion for the game was wearing him down and burning him out.

"Why am I tired? Why am I dragging?" he'd ask himself at the end of the day, crashed out in his dorm room, staring at stacks of 16mm footage. "I'm younger than these guys!"

He lists a few veterans who seemed to actually enjoy the trials of training camp: Stallworth, safety Donnie Shell and cornerback Mel Blount.

"These guys seemed to have so much energy and so much fun at practice. They were going home, they had great families, all the things that I was looking for," Dungy said. "I saw that energy in the way they looked at everything.

"When I came to the Steelers, I saw some guys who were really not only great players but really committed Christians."

To the rest of the league, the Steel Curtain wasn't viewed as a group of hardcore believers. But a good handful of them were. And Noll, a devoted Catholic, often used scripture in team meetings.

Seeing the stressed-out rookie, Shell reached out to Dungy and soon Dungy joined his teammates in a religious study group. The men helped shift Dungy's concerns away from the self-centered question "Will I make the team?" and more toward "How can I serve others?" His teammates also helped him understand that Noll's philosophy was one that needed to be applied to everyday life.

"I think Noll's message, as I began to understand it, was absolutely, you want to give it everything you've got, but you can't let it consume you and you can't let it identify you."

I think Noll's message, as I began to understand it, was absolutely, you want to give it everything you've got, but you can't let it consume you and you can't let it identify you," Dungy explained. "You can't say, 'If I make this team, I'm a great person, but if I don't make the team, I'm not.'"

Dungy eventually did make the team, and the following season, in 1978, he led the Steelers with six interceptions, helping Pittsburgh go 14-2 en route to beating the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII.

"We were there at the Super Bowl and you realize that we are going to win it and we had achieved this goal as a team, but it couldn't be the end of the line. It couldn't be the most important thing. And by then it wasn't for me," he said. "I began to understand what Coach Noll was talking about. It's about your relationship with your teammates -- what are you doing to help in the city, and what kind of role model you are for young people."

Nearly 30 years after that Super Bowl victory, Dungy shared Noll's beliefs with the Indianapolis Colts as he steered them to success in Super Bowl XLI. "It's not enough to win championships," Dungy often told the Colts, always encouraging them to think beyond themselves and reach out to help others.

And in Dungy's recent reach to help out youth at a Tampa detention facility, one teenage boy admitted that he had heard of Paul from the Bible's New Testament but had never heard of Dungy of the Super Bowl-winning Colts.

"You've heard of Paul but not Dungy?" the supervisor asked, incredulous.

Correct, the boy said, nodding.

Dungy smiled, and nodded, too. The boy's priorities were clearly in order.

Moments like these make him wonder if his work in football was just a stepping stone to the life he is living now.

"You know, I came into the NFL thinking I was going to have a career as a player and I played only three years," he said. "But then, after 28 years in coaching, it seems like, well, that was the plan, and maybe there will be a time when people look back and say, 'Didn't he used to coach one day?'"


tony hipchest
06-24-2009, 12:58 PM
excellent article. if anyone missed the video segment on nfl network that this article is based on, here is dungy embarking on his lifes work-


06-24-2009, 01:24 PM
Tony Dungy is class all the way.great read.

06-24-2009, 02:08 PM
great find :thumbsup:

Galax Steeler
06-25-2009, 03:40 AM
Nice read thanks LLT.

06-25-2009, 05:19 AM
Dungy get's it. Good football player, great coach.....great man.

06-25-2009, 05:26 AM
Great read.


06-25-2009, 03:32 PM
I've always liked Tony Dungy immensely (was really happy that he won the SB 2 years ago)...A man of real Character who puts his money where his mouth is in regard to his Faith! Thanks for the article! :thumbsup: