Be better. It became a Dungy hallmark. When he signed with the Steelers as a free agent in 1977, Dungy took one look at Terry Bradshaw and understood why no team had drafted some option quarterback from Minnesota: Bradshaw was 6'4" with a gun for an arm. At the time, Dungy didn't think there was prejudice against black quarterbacks. Only 6'1" and not known for his arm strength, he agreed with Pittsburgh's decision to move him first to receiver and then to defensive back. He knew he had plenty to learn, and at rookie camp he hit the film hard. After meetings Pittsburgh running back Rocky Bleier would lie on his bed, watching TV, when he would notice his reception going haywire. "I couldn't figure out what it was," Bleier says. "Finally I realized someone in the meeting room next door was running the projector, running it and stopping it, running it and stopping it. Tony Dungy. He was by himself. Other rookies would hit the bars. Tony would sit there watching film, watching film, watching film."
He played two years with the cerebral brutes of the Steel Curtain, soaking up Noll's strategies and philosophies. In 1978 he tied for second in the AFC in interceptions. As time went on, he began to notice that most white quarterbacks were no taller or stronger than he was. "I'd stand next to Bob Griese and look him right in the eye, and stand next to Fran Tarkenton and look him right in the eye," Dungy says. "I'd watch some of the backups throw and say, 'These guys are not very good.' It wasn't until I played a couple years that I started thinking that maybe there was something to this."
Two years later, upon seeing little future for himself as a player, he retired. After a season as an assistant at his alma mater, he joined the Steelers as a defensive assistant in 1981. His players quickly learned: Dungy may be quiet, but he carries real strength. "When someone's easygoing, people think he's soft," says Donnie Shell, a former teammate of Dungy's in Pittsburgh who also played for him there. "But you respect the man. He's smart. And he will put people in their place."
The Buccaneers' players found that out on April 27, a broiling Saturday when they and 12,000 fans met at Tampa Stadium for a day of introductions and mingling. During an hour-long autograph session Dungy, standing on a makeshift stage, noticed that some 15 players were hiding from the sun and the fans. "I want those guys to get out here right now and start signing autographs," Dungy said into a microphone. "If you don't get out here, the players who don't—we're going to have a problem at practice today." A murmur ran through the crowd.
"And like roaches when you turn the light on, all those guys sprinted from behind the stage," recalls Bucs spokesman Chip Namias. Afterward Dungy called a meeting and quietly lit into his players. "When you walked out of the room, you knew who was in charge," says Kiffin. "From then on, the players knew Tony was for real."
He was eight when he first saw a pro football game. His father and an uncle took him to Tiger Stadium one Sunday to see the Cleveland Browns, who had the great Jim Brown and a young wideout named Paul Warfield, play the Lions of Alex Karras and Dick (Night Train) Lane. "The atmosphere seemed bigger than life," Dungy says. "I don't remember who won, just that everybody was coming out to watch these guys play."
The atmosphere in Tampa Bay carries none of that electricity. The Buccaneers have been a running gag in the NFL for years. When Dungy's four-year-old son, Eric, was told the family would be moving to Tampa, he refused to accept it. "No, Dad, no," he said.
And Eric didn't even know how unsettled the Bucs' future is. On Sept. 3, Hillsborough County voters will decide the fate of a referendum for a new stadium. Support is tepid, season-ticket sales are down from last year, and the Bucs are talking with officials in central Florida about moving there. Cleveland, Houston and Los Angeles are in the market for an NFL team. In two years the Bucs could be playing far, far away.
As Dungy sees it, however, the situation couldn't be better. The Bucs have no tradition to speak of, so he has no ghosts to battle. "And if we do end up moving, we've got to do the job in the place we go to," Dungy says. "But this year we're going to be here—and we've got to win."
The season is still months off, however. On this June weekend Dungy's father, mother and an uncle have come to Florida for a two-day fishing jaunt. Tony has worked saltwater only once. There's a boat to charter and tarpon to chase and a blazing sun like you never see in Jackson, Mich. Two days of lazing. Time enough to think about the ones that got away. Time enough to celebrate the big one that Tony Dungy finally reeled in.