Dungy didn't need a Super Bowl victory to define his professional career and personal life. But on Sunday, the football gods and whatever other deity you might believe in finally gave Dungy the championship so many people wanted him to capture.
Appropriately, Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts won that title with a 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in the first Super Bowl ever played in a driving rain. Not that a little inclement weather was going to spoil anything. Rather, it would be a reminder of what helped the Colts arrive here after four years of playoff struggles under Dungy.
"(I'm) very proud of our guys because it didn't go smooth," Dungy said. "It wasn't the easy road, it was a tough road. But I think the Lord really prepared us … we talked about it last night that it would be some storms in the game."
Figurative storms, mostly.
After all, Dungy lost his first head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a series of disappointing postseason runs, only to see the man who followed him (Jon Gruden) lead the Bucs to a title the next year. In December 2005, Dungy went through a parent's worst nightmare when he buried his eldest son James after a suicide.
The rough spots weren't nearly so dramatic this season, but they existed nonetheless. Indianapolis was the worst in the league against the run, allowing yards faster than reporters go through a pregame spread.
The Colts fixed their defensive problems in the first two rounds of the playoffs, beating Kansas City and Baltimore by giving up a combined 127 rushing yards. They found themselves down 21-3 to New England in the first half at home in the AFC championship game. It took a 32-point second half led by quarterback Peyton Manning to survive that game.
Then there was the start of Super Bowl XLI. Bears rookie return master Devin Hester opened the game with a kickoff return for a touchdown. Later in the first quarter, running back Thomas Jones broke free for a 52-yard run that set up the Chicago's second touchdown for a 14-6 lead.
Sure, the Bears had some hiccups. They had three fumbles that led to a pair of field goals for Indianapolis, but it seemed like the Colts should have had much greater control of the game.
Through it all, Dungy kept the same stoic, unwavering strength that has defined him in both good times and the worst that fate had to offer.
"He's a model person in all of these situations," Indianapolis linebacker Cato June said. "If anybody can handle themselves in adversity the way he handles himself, they will be a great person."
As the game wore on, all of the things that Dungy preached started to come true. He patiently watched the offense control the clock in the third quarter, grinding away for two field goals and a 22-14 lead.
However, more trouble occurred. The Colts lost starting cornerback Nick Harper when he re-aggravated his injured ankle. That forced them to play little-used Kelvin Hayden at left cornerback against top Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who had already scored once in the game.
Chicago went to a standard attack against an inexperienced corner. The Bears ran a double move on Hayden, hoping he'd bite on the fake. The problem was that quarterback Rex Grossman threw to the wrong spot. His pass drifted outside and Hayden snared it for his first interception and returned it 53 yards for the touchdown that put the game away.
"When I was going out there, coach looked at me and said, 'You're a grown man, go out there and do the things you know how to do,' " said Hayden, a Chicago native.
While trivia hounds and social activists will hail the victory as the first led by an African-American man, the more important part is that it may be a victory for humanity.
Over the past six years, the Super Bowl has been dominated by coaches who seem to live football first and any semblance of a life second. New England's Bill Belichick is criticized by many of his current and former assistants for sacrificing his family life. Gruden has sometimes struggled to remember the names of his children.
Dungy has been just the opposite. The Colts got to Miami on Monday instead of coming in early to get their South Beach time. The reason? Dungy wanted his players to have the weekend off to spend it with family after not having a bye since Week 6.
"He has always been a high-character guy," linebacker Rob Morris said. "He believes very strongly in what's important to him and, to him, life and life's lessons are bigger than football."
Perhaps that's why a year ago, after the storm that was his son James' death, Dungy appeared in Detroit the day before the Super Bowl to give a speech at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast. Despite the failure of his team to get to the Super Bowl, Dungy shared his view on his son's passing, talking eloquently about the positives he took from the emotional upheaval.
"People wanted to know if he was all right," said Dungy's wife, Lauren. "They said their prayers for him and he wanted to show them he was OK … James would have wanted him to go on."
On Sunday night, after the Colts came away with the win, Dungy stood there and enjoyed the fruits of a difficult journey.
"The Lord doesn't always take you in a straight line," Dungy said. "He doesn't always take a direct path. I think he tests you sometimes to see if you're going to keep the faith and hang in there and I think we did. We did as an organization and it's just such a great feeling to get, to win this game.
"It's not the biggest thing in the world, but … it feels great."
- Tony Dungy