Posted: Friday December 23, 2005 11:43AM; Updated: Friday December 23, 2005 12:07PM
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Still, nobody is perfect, and like anyone whose professional life is governed by an NFL schedule, Dungy has been susceptible to immersing himself in the moment. I'm sure there have been times he has beat himself up for being overly distant from the ones he loves.
Two years ago, I asked Dungy about his well-deserved reputation for being a nice guy. When the subject turned to his five children -- James, then 16, was the second-oldest -- Dungy smiled and said he was pretty sure his kids "wouldn't use the words 'nice guy' to describe me. They'd probably say I'm not that much fun and that they don't get to do things other kids get to do. They would probably see me as the 'mean dad.'"
Dungy laughed and added, "I mean, they don't understand. I tell them, 'If you want mean, let me tell you how your granddad was when I was growing up.'"
The following June Dungy's father, Wilbur, died from an infection caused by leukemia. In addition to illustrating to Tony the importance of having a father who was present, Wilbur Dungy taught his son not to feel sorry for himself during bad times. His view, Tony once said, was, "What can you do to make the situation better?"
In this awful case, I'm not sure that anyone is capable of confronting that question, much less coming up with an answer. I suspect Dungy and his family will handle themselves with dignity and that the coach, before too long, will feel compelled to return to work and try to complete his professional mission. The best-case scenario, I suppose, would be that in the midst of achieving gridiron glory, Dungy can once again inspire -- by biting his lip in the face of personal tragedy and reminding us that the power of faith and family support can overcome any measure of pain.
That's what I want to believe as I sit here late on a chilly December night, periodically checking in on my sleeping children a couple of rooms away while my wife sits downstairs wrapping presents and psyching herself up for the new year, when she'll be faced with five challenging weeks of single-parenthood. But my heart tells me that all the faith in the world can't make the pain disappear -- not now, not ever.
I wish I could offer Dungy and his family some inspirational words, or that I could work up the nerve to try to ask Edwards or Dilfer to find them for me. But as I complete my day-long search for a way to make sense of it all, I find myself staring at a hopeful take provided by the man whose misery runs the deepest.
In an interview last March with the Akron Beacon Journal's Pat McManamon, then a columnist for the Cleveland Browns' Web site, Dungy spoke of his admiration for Dilfer and the way the quarterback was shaped by the death of his son. "I can't imagine what that takes out of you," Dungy said. "But his outlook is so fantastic that I think Trevin's death was the finishing touch of molding him into who he is. I'm sure he feels like football and winning games and developing camaraderie with teammates and being part of a winning thing is all great. But there's no negative in football that can happen that can compare to that.
"He realizes that. And that's helped me. It's something I think about all the time. You lose a game or a situation doesn't go your way or you get an injury and you realize that this is not adversity. It's nothing close to real adversity, and I think that does help."