I picture the long term memory part of my brain like shelves and shelves of scrapbooks filled with events and stories from my life. I can go in there and pull one down and just flip through it til my heart’s content. Today, I finished another scrapbook. On it’s cover it simply reads “The Coach.” Inside it though are pages upon pages of how deeply this man has touched my life without ever actually knowing me. I don’t recall the first time he ever hit my radar, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what has happened since then. He has been a part of some of the BEST days of my life. And sadly, he’s been a part of some of the worst, but in the end, I was thankful to be going through those worst times with him even from miles away. I knew him without knowing him because he never pretended to be something he wasn’t. What you saw was what you got. He is one of the most real people to ever walk this earth, and words cannot express the gratitude I have for his willingness to spend even one day coaching the Colts, much less years.
I know this sounds as if he has passed away, but he hasn’t. Only his tenure as an NFL coach has, and that in and of itself is sad enough. The NFL needs people like Tony Dungy, and I pray that he has left at least a portion of himself behind as an example of how to do it right. Sure you can say he should have won more championships, but quite frankly, I’d give up the one he did win if he’d stay longer. What he did wasn’t based solely on winning championships. It was based on being the kind of coach, player, team, and organization that represented the game the right way. It means having the right character of people. It means being able to put your head on the pillow at night and know that you would trust any one of your players with your teenage son.
True story: At the ESPYs after the Colts won the Super Bowl, Tony and his wife Lauren were ready to leave the after party, but their teenage son Eric was not. Tony and Lauren left Eric in the care of safety Bob Sanders. Just think about that. Sit down and think about how many NFL players you would be willing to leave your child with…at night…at a party…with adults…where there’s probably alcohol. And then remember that this story took place just a little more than a year after Tony and Lauren’s oldest son died.
One thing I know for sure is that this decision is the best one for his and his family’s future. There will be many lives touched by this man before he does indeed leave this world, and if leaving the NFL behind is what he has to do for that to happen, then so be it. A lot will be written in the next couple of days about the Coach he was, but I choose to remember the kind of person he was while doing a job he loved. And I will remember those brief couple of minutes on an afternoon in May when the Coach took the time to speak to me, a fan, and treat me as if I was the only person in a room full of people and as if he’d known me for years.
Thanks for the memories, Coach.