Dungy bests protege Smith
Sunday, February 4th 2007, 10:23 pm
By: News On 6
MIAMI (AP) _ Merely by stepping on the field Sunday, Tony Dungy made cultural history.
A few hours later, he won the Super Bowl, too.
Not bad for a day's work.
Long saddled with a reputation as a coach who couldn't win the big one, Dungy shook that label when his Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17.
The biggest win of Dungy's career came against his close friend and protege, Bears coach Lovie Smith. They were the first black head coaches in the 41-year history of the Super Bowl.
When the game ended, the 51-year-old Dungy was hoisted onto the shoulders of his team.
``It means probably more to him than it does to any of us,'' defensive end Dwight Freeney said. ``He has waited a long time. He has deserved this.''
As his team celebrated, Dungy switched his blue Colts cap for a white one that read ``NFL champions'' and walked to midfield, where he and Smith exchanged words and a hug.
Dungy held on for an extra second.
``I just told Lovie how proud I was of this whole moment,'' Dungy said. ``I really appreciate what he has done in Chicago _ the way he does it, the type of person he is. They're going to get their championship soon.''
Their relationship dates to 1996, when Dungy hired Smith, a former University of Tulsa player and assistant coach, to coach linebackers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They were a page-one story throughout Super Bowl week, discussing daily the laid-back personalities and Christian faith they share, as well as their groundbreaking success.
``I'm proud to be the first African-American coach to win this,'' Dungy said during the trophy ceremony. ``But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord's way. We're more proud of that.''
Dungy won because he had the better quarterback. Like his coach, Peyton Manning filled a void in his impressive resume by winning a ring. Steady rain made for a sloppy game that included eight turnovers, but Manning threw for 247 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown pass.
``We're proud to have won this for our leader, Coach Dungy,'' Manning said.
Smith's erratic young quarterback, Rex Grossman, made the same kind of mistakes that had Bears fans lobbying for his benching all season. He threw two interceptions, with one returned for a touchdown, and he fumbled twice, losing one.
Smith stayed with his quarterback, and the underdog Bears found themselves gradually overpowered by the Colts.
In the early going, it appeared Smith might pull off an upset against his former mentor. Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a score, and Smith followed the rookie down the sideline and signaled touchdown.
But the Colts rallied and claimed their first Super Bowl championship since the 1970 season, when they played in Baltimore.
``We took the hit early with Devin Hester,'' Dungy said. ``We talked about it _ `It's going to be a storm. Sometimes you have to work for it.' Our guys played so hard, and I can't tell you how proud I am of our group, our organization and our city.''
The Colts had been perennial title contenders since Dungy became coach in 2002, but fell short each year. Before that, he had four winning seasons in Tampa Bay but failed to reach the title game.
The breakthrough came two weeks ago, when Indianapolis overcame an 18-point deficit to beat New England.
``The Lord doesn't always take you in a straight line,'' Dungy said. ``He tests you sometimes.''
Dungy joined Mike Ditka and Tom Flores as the only men to win Super Bowl titles as both players and coaches. Dungy, a former University of Minnesota quarterback, was a backup safety for the championship Pittsburgh Steelers 28 years ago.
Smith, in his third season as head coach, led the Bears to their first Super Bowl since Ditka directed them to the league title 21 years ago.