We recently took a look at Marvin Harrison’s top moments with the Indianapolis Colts, and so now it’s time to take a look at Tony Dungy’s as well.
Dungy will be formally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend and is the winningest coach in Colts history, and he was the head coach during one of the most remarkable eras in NFL history. During his seven years leading the Colts, Dungy’s team made the playoffs in each of them and won at least 12 games in the final six. There are plenty of worthy moments to choose from, but here are my top five Tony Dungy moments - after which you can discuss your own in the comments.
5. vs. Denver Broncos, 2003 postseason
Tony Dungy was hired by the Colts in 2002, but the only reason he was available was because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had fired him. Dungy had completely turned around one of the league’s worst franchises into a perennial playoff team, but he had too many playoff losses for the Tampa Bay leadership. Indianapolis, meanwhile, had some of the same issues. They hadn’t won a playoff game since the 1995 season, having lost four straight playoff games. Then Dungy was hired and got the team to the postseason in his first season, only to lose 41-0 to the New York Jets. Five straight playoff losses for the Colts, and Dungy had lost his last four postseason games and had just a 2-5 playoff record. Clearly, he could use a playoff win (as could his quarterback, Peyton Manning).
They both got it in a statement win in the wild card round following the 2003 season. The Colts hosted the Denver Broncos and completely destroyed them, winning 41-10. The Colts jumped out to a 31-3 halftime lead and they never let up, as Manning finished with a perfect passer rating on the day. It was a blowout win that the Colts desperately needed, and then the following week they went on the road and defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 38-31. Though they would fall short in the AFC title game to the Patriots, the win marked the first postseason victory of Dungy’s tenure with the Colts.
4. vs. Arizona Cardinals, 2005 season
In 2005 the Indianapolis Colts began the season 13-0, but that soon paled in comparison to the tragedy that befell the Dungy family. Dungy’s son James tragically took his own life in December of 2005, and the Dungy family was left grieving. Dungy decided to return to doing what he loved doing just days after burying his son, however, and so after a one game absence he returned to the sidelines to coach the 13-2 Colts. It was a meaningless game against the Arizona Cardinals on New Year’s Day, as the Colts already had the top seed in the AFC locked up. As such, it was decided that backup quarterback Jim Sorgi and the rest of the subs would play most of the game. Before the game, the Colts held a moment of silence in honor of James Dungy, and then the game began. Sorgi threw two touchdown passes and the Colts held a 17-13 lead late in the football game. The Cardinals got down to the two yard line in the final two minutes and were threatening, but the Colts’ backup defense held firm, stopping the Cardinals three straight times - on fourth down due to replay reversal - and forced a turnover on downs with 13 seconds left. Safety Mike Doss grabbed the football and handed it to his coach, greeted by a thunderous applause from the RCA Dome crowd.
"I know those guys wanted to win the game for me and wanted todo it for a lot of reasons," Dungy said after the game. "But I think they wanted to win it for me, and they came up with the effort to do it. It was special."
3. vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2003 regular season
For the first time since being fired by the Buccaneers following the 2001 season, Tony Dungy coached against his former team - and on the road in his former home stadium, against the reigning Super Bowl champions, on his birthday, on Monday Night Football. Talk about drama! The game started out very poorly for the Colts, however, and the Buccaneers jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead, a 28-7 lead entering the fourth quarter, and a 35-14 lead with 5:09 left in the game. People across the country turned off their televisions and went to bed, but Dungy and his Colts didn’t quit. Instead, they just kept clawing their way back. James Mungro scored on a touchdown run with 3:37 left, then Peyton Manning hit Marvin Harrison for a 28-yard score with 2:29 left in the game. Finally, with just 35 seconds remaining, Ricky Williams scored a one-yard touchdown that, with Mike Vanderjagt’s extra point, tied the game at 35. It went to overtime, and Mike Vandgerjagt ultimately won it on a 29-yard kick. Final score: Colts 38, Buccaneers 35. It was one of the most stunning comebacks in league history, as the Colts erased a 21-point deficit with just over five minutes remaining in the game to make Dungy’s return to Tampa Bay much sweeter.
2. vs. Chicago Bears, 2006 postseason
Finally, after so many years, Tony Dungy was finally coaching in the Super Bowl. He had come so close with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, holding “the greatest show on turf” St. Louis Rams to just eleven points in the 1999 NFC Championship game but failing to score enough to capitalize, falling 11-6. Following the 2003 season, Dungy once again coached in a conference title game but his Colts lost to the New England Patriots 24-14. As they say, however, the third time was the charm and Dungy won the AFC title game following the 2006 season. That advanced him to Super Bowl XLI, where Dungy’s Colts would meet the Chicago Bears, coached by Dungy’s friend Lovie Smith. The Bears had a very dangerous return man in Devin Hester, and Dungy devised a plan to not kick to him. Shortly before the game, however, he changed his mind and didn’t want to play scared - the result was Hester taking the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Oops. Dungy and his team rebounded from that misstep, however, and the Colts fought through sloppy play and the rain to win 29-17. Finally, at long last, Dungy could hoist that Lombardi Trophy as a head coach. In doing so, he became the first African-American head coach to ever win a Super Bowl. Dungy was carried off the field by his players, a fitting recognition for a great coach.
1. vs. New England Patriots, 2006 postseason
Though the Super Bowl was obviously the crowning achievement of Tony Dungy’s career, it wasn’t his best moment (and the same goes for Peyton Manning, too). The Colts entered the 2006 postseason with plenty of struggles - they had lost four of their last seven games and had been gashed on the ground, particularly by the Jacksonville Jaguars in a humiliating week 14 defeat. Dungy stayed the course, however, and stunningly, it worked. The Colts defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round, and then traveled to Baltimore to knock off the Ravens. The Colts would host the AFC Championship game, and it would be against the New England Patriots - the Colts’ rival and the team that had knocked them out of the playoffs in two of the past three years. At the beginning, it looked like another Patriots rout, as New England jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter. Fans were devastated, but there was one man in the RCA Dome that night who didn’t give up: Tony Dungy. He kept believing, and his players followed suit. Slowly but surely, the Colts clawed their way back into the game, which then turned into a shootout between the best two quarterbacks in the league. With one minute remaining in the game, Joseph Addai scored a three-yard touchdown up the middle to give the Colts a stunning 38-34 lead, and then Marlin Jackson picked off Tom Brady on the ensuing drive to seal the deal. That game very well might have been Tony Dungy’s finest coaching job, as he kept his team believing and encouraged. They responded by mounting one of the most spectacular playoff comebacks in NFL history.