Tony Dungy returned to the Colts sideline on Sunday less than two weeks after losing his eldest son, James, in an apparent suicide. The Colts beat Arizona and went into the postseason with the NFL's best record (14-2), but his team's Super Bowl prospects weren't foremost on Dungy's mind. "I would want America to know our kids need us," the coach told SI. "Spend as much time with your kids as you can. Enjoy them. Be with them."
Five days earlier Dungy had stood before 2,000 mourners in Lutz, Fla., and given a heart-wrenching, 15-minute eulogy. He was overcome with emotion when he said 18-year-old James had hurried from the family home after Thanksgiving, and father and son hadn't hugged. When he told the mourners, "Hug your children; you never know when it'll be the last time," he had to step back to compose himself.
During his son's wake Dungy implored one of his former players, Cris Carter, to coach his son Duron in high school football. ("You'll never have the chance again," Dungy told Carter. "You've got to do it.") Dungy's message was definitely heard. "Coach's eulogy changed my life," said Colts defensive tackle Larry Tripplett. "It changed all of our lives. The strength, the character, the leadership.... What an incredibly strong man."
That Dungy was back at work two days after the funeral sent another message to the players: They won't wallow in sorrow, even if their future doesn't look as rosy as it did a month ago. When they take the field on Jan. 15 for their playoff opener, it will have been five weeks since the Colts played a quality game. In that span Peyton Manning and the first offensive unit played 18 series--and scored just two touchdowns. Indy was beaten by the Chargers in Week 15, then split the final two games playing many backups.
Meanwhile, potential playoff foes New England and Pittsburgh are peaking--and both have physical, attacking defenses like the Chargers'. "I don't think we're worried," said Colts president Bill Polian. "We went 0-5 in the preseason, but we came out and dominated in our first game [a 24-7 win at Baltimore]. Our biggest concern is entering the playoffs healthy."
Physically, they will. And Tripplett says this postseason will be a show of respect for the coach they so admire: "The attitude of the guys on this team is, 'No way we'll lose. None.' We're playing for us, and for him."
TIM BOYLES/GETTY IMAGES (DUNGY AT SERVICE)
FAMILY Two days after James's funeral Dungy (above, with Manning) returned.
FRANK POLICH/REUTERS (DUNGY AND MANNING)
[See caption above.]