Words usually come easily to the eloquent Tony Dungy.
But the recently retired Indianapolis Colts coach who has written three books and changed lives with a career’s worth of locker-room speeches struggled to articulate his experience Tuesday in Washington.
After taking the train in from a friend’s home in Maryland, Dungy sat 40 rows from the spot at the U.S. Capitol where President Barack Obama was inaugurated. The man who made NFL history in 2007 when he became the only African-American coach to win a Super Bowl watched in awe as the country marked a victory he believes no scoreboard could measure.
“Seeing how our country was moved . . . I . . . just don’t know how to describe it,” Dungy said Wednesday on the phone.
What Dungy saw as he peered over the estimated crowd of 2 million on the National Mall took his mind back to a day in 1963. On a similar stage, another African-American agent of change, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech that echoed inside Dungy’s head as he waited for Obama to speak.
Dungy, ever humble, couldn’t think of anything he accomplished as a player or coach that stirred the depth of his emotions.
“I can say from experience that winning the Super Bowl was great and I know how it impacted so many people, but there’s not even a comparison with the inauguration and that feeling I had,” Dungy said. “What President Obama is doing is on such a different level than what I did.”
That doesn’t mean Dungy didn’t see social symmetry between Obama taking the presidential oath in the same week Steelers coach Mike Tomlin became the third African-American to lead a team to the Super Bowl. In fact, Dungy drew parallels that represent the overall theme of his third book, “Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance,” which Tyndale House Publishers will release Tuesday.
“I look at Barack Obama saying I can be president or Mike Tomlin saying I can be an NFL head coach and those guys both said, ‘I’m not going to follow the crowd,’ ” Dungy said. “That’s the message of the book. It’s really directed at young men, telling them too many people are channeled by the conformity of society.”
Tomlin’s individuality always appealed to Dungy, who gave him his first NFL job on his Tampa Bay staff in 2001. When the Steelers took a risk in hiring Tomlin as their head coach two years ago when he was just 34, they used Dungy’s recommendation to help justify their decision.
That makes it easy to guess whom the former Steeler (1977-78) will be pulling for in Super Bowl XLIII.
“I’m so close with Mike, and my Steeler background makes it a no-brainer,” Dungy said.
The reality of retirement hit Dungy last week when he pulled into the Colts’ complex in Indianapolis to pick up some things and “somebody else’s name was on my parking spot,” he said. He will take another six weeks to decide what’s next for him, and looks forward to visiting coaching proteges around the league such as Bears coach Lovie Smith and new hire Rod Marinelli.
“Rod went through a lot (going 0-16) in Detroit and taught us what being a man was all about and what being a coach was all about,” Dungy said.
Dungy always will remember Tuesday for reminding him what he believes being an American is about.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.