It was sometime prior to my freshman year at John Carroll (1986-87) that Tony Dungy and his wife, Lauren, moved into my neighborhood.
In 1984, he had become the youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL, and was essentially asked to do wonders with a team in transition from its Super Bowl years of the mid to late 1970’s.
As any Steelers fan living in Pittsburgh would attest, having a member of the Steelers living in your neighborhood was a cool thing. But the neighborhood also wanted to respect his privacy, so it was somewhat unwritten to not make a big deal about it.
On this particular Sunday over a break from school, I had been lounging in the house when the phone rang. I heard my mother answer it and was talking for a few minutes. When she hung up, she casually mentioned to my father that Lauren Dungy was coming over to pick up some cookware, serving utensils, platters and other items for a party she was hosting.
I mentioned it would be cool if Tony was coming over as well, and my mother said, “I think he is.”
In no time at all, I bolted upstairs and rang up my friend Gerry, who lived about a mile away, and told him Tony Dungy was on his way over.
He had just come home from church and so he got back into his car and raced over. Gerry got there minutes before the Dungy’s arrived.
Once Tony and Lauren arrived, they could not have been nicer. We spent some time talking, during which time my father mentioned that I was playing football at John Carroll and my friend was considering playing at Allegheny.
Instead of just nodding and acting like he didn’t care, he asked several questions of us, asked us about our high school team, things of that nature.
As they were ready to leave, I summoned the courage to ask him if he wouldn’t mind posing for a picture.
But I also felt it would have been rude to not include his wife. I think she was somewhat surprised to be included, but she was a good sport.
The one thing I remember most about meeting Tony Dungy was how dignified he was.
He had no airs about him, no sense of being a prima donna, or that he was better than you because he was the defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was just a nice man, a regular guy if you will.
I followed his career ever since, from the day he lost his job in Pittsburgh because his players felt the defensive scheme was too complicated … to the day he was hired as Tampa Bay head coach … to the game he almost upset the St. Louis Rams in the NFC championships … to the day he was let go in Tampa … and then landing on his feet in Indianapolis … to watching John Gruden take Dungy’s Buccaneers team to the Super Bowl the next year … to seeing the anguish he and his wife suffered when they lost their son James (not yet born when our picture was taken) … to the height of winning Super Bowl XLI.
The word that strikes me when I think of him back then is the same word that strikes me when I think about him now: Dignity.
Back in the early part of 1987, little did I know I had a future Super Bowl champion head coach standing in my living room.
I am certainly proud to see all that he has accomplished, but I am also encouraged to know he still seems to be that same down-to-earth guy that I met 20 years ago.