Tony Dungy Puts his Name In The NFL Record Books

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Tony Dungy shakes his head in disbelief.
Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick -- all multiple Super Bowl winners, four of them Hall-of-Famers. The humble Colts coach still thinks he doesn't belong in the same sentence, although the history books now tell a different tale.
Thursday night's victory at Jacksonville not only clinched a playoff spot for the Colts, it also made Dungy the first coach since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs 10 straight seasons.
"It is a little bit thrilling to me when you see the names in that area, Landry and coach Noll and Walsh," he said Friday. "It's hard to do, so I'm really fortunate to be around two groups of guys who have allowed me to do it."
For Dungy, the journey has been more challenging than those before him.
Unlike Shula, Landry, Walsh or Belichick, Dungy had to make his run with different franchises, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. Unlike Shula, Landry, Noll and Walsh, Dungy also had to succeed in the era of free agency, which seemed destined to break up potential dynasties after only a few years.
He won with different styles, too. In Tampa, it was the traditional grind-it-out offense and suffocating defense; in Indianapolis, it's been the more modern high-scoring offense and an opportunistic defense.
Yet nobody can quibble with his results.
Since Dungy arrived in 2002, the Colts have won five AFC South titles, became the second NFL team to win at least 11 games in six straight seasons, and Indy is the only team since the 2002 realignment to make the playoffs every year.
Those who once contended Dungy didn't have a creative enough offensive mind to win a Super Bowl, took notice when Dungy led the 2006 Colts to a championship in ways few thought possible -- surviving in the rain, winning a playoff game without scoring a touchdown, relying on an overhauled run defense that forced teams to play right into Indy's strengths.
While this has not been a typical Colts season, Indy (11-4) did what it had to.
It strung together eight straight wins after opening 3-4, five of those by seven or fewer points.
All of which makes this playoff berth so much sweeter.
"It feels very good," Dungy said. "The win still feels good this morning."
The common denominator has always been Dungy, who never changed his mantra of sticking to the game plan, correcting mistakes and staying focused on his team's own goals while others wrote their playoff obituary.
Indy's remarkable response changed everything.
Two-time league MVP Peyton Manning has thrown 16 touchdowns and three interceptions since Indy's last loss Oct. 27 at Tennessee, making a strong closing case for his third MVP award.
It overcame the loss of 2007 defensive player of the year Bob Sanders, starting cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden, middle linebacker Gary Brackett, running back Joseph Addai, record-setting receiver Marvin Harrison and three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday.
The Colts even thrived during a brutal November schedule that included a home game against New England and road trips to Pittsburgh and San Diego, and unlikely candidates such as Keiwan Ratliff have had starring roles. Ratliff, who was cut three times this season by the Colts, scored the winning touchdown Thursday night on a 35-yard interception return.
Clearly, much of this has to do with Dungy's stabilizing influence.
"It's kind of how we're built from the top down, the game is never over," defensive end Dwight Freeney said after Thursday's 31-24 victory. "We're never going to stop playing. You've got to stomp us out."
How much longer Dungy extends the streak will be solely up to him.
He plans, as he has the past several years, to spend time pondering retirement after this season and the Colts already have a successor-in-waiting in associate head coach Jim Caldwell.
But for now, Dungy is celebrating his latest milestone with a four-day weekend.
"People can say 'You've made it seven straight times,' but they're all special and I commend this group," he said. "We had to do it the hard way this year, and sometimes things just don't go right for you. But to fight your way through and get there, everyone is special. I don't take it (the playoffs) for granted, and I definitely appreciate the opportunity we're going to have."


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