We’ve all heard the Leo Durocher saying, “Nice guys finish last,” a tenet by which Durocher lived his life as manager of both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. Too often in sports (and business, and politics, etc etc etc) we celebrate the successes of the sharks — those people whose drive to win pushes them past any sense of ethics and humanity, and the lesson always seems to be that only the obsessed win in life. That’s why it becomes so important to tell the stories of those who reach the pinnacle without leaving their humanity behind — and such is the case with Tony Dungy, the soft-spoken man who persevered and won a Super Bowl:
Sportswriters cover so many jerks, egomaniacs and sometimes even criminals that when a person of such high quality as Dungy finds success we can’t help but enjoy it.
Dungy is fair, he is candid, he is helpful, he is genuine. He is a man who repeatedly talks about his Christian faith without seeming overly preachy, nor hypocritical. He lives his life exactly according to the values he espouses.
“You see that soft-spokenness,” Dungy’s wife, Lauren, said. “The calmness, the humbleness, the man that’s in control, a man that has a job and wants to do it and do it well. Not necessarily to get credit for it, it’s a family coming together to make a championship team.
“The way he has done it, that’s to play a game with intensity, to play without compromising. To go out and play on the field and not have to compromise with the cussing and carrying on that often happens, we often see with coaches.”
In the twisted world of the NFL, those qualities were sometimes seen as detrimental, that he wasn’t tough enough or mean enough or inspirational enough to get his team to the Super Bowl. A string of playoff disappointments were all it took to make the case, a mediocre 7-8 postseason record in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.
It should be noted that many of these same qualities also resided on the other side of the field in Lovie Smith, the Chicago Bears head coach. It seems that this could have been called the Super Nice Bowl. It may have been the first Super Bowl to feature two African-American head coaches, but it also might be the first in some time to feature two head coaches with such overt Christian faith informing their leadership of their respective teams.
J.A. Adande writes a good column on Dungy, covering his commitment to live his life by his faith and to treat his players with respect at all times. He misses one point that perhaps Adande wanted to leave out on purpose, but it bears noting as an example of Dungy’s commitment. One of Dungy’s sons committed suicide in December 2005, a tragedy that could have shaken Dungy’s faith and transformed him into a bitter man. Instead, he considered it a “test” and one to overcome, and he did so painfully but keeping himself as grounded as anyone could possibly be under the circumstances.
The better team won the game last night, but more importantly, one of the best men in the league finally got his due. Congratulations, Coach Dungy, and thank you for the example and the challenge you have set for all of us. Nice guys can finish first — they just have to work hard and be true to themselves to do so.