Monday, January 12, 2009

Quiet Strength, Deafening Humility

Usually, December through March is my favorite time for sports. College football is winding down and reaching its climax in the bowl games; NFL playoffs are in full swing and the Super Bowl is played; and my favorite sport, NCAA basketball, is really starting to pick up and will culminate in the Road to the Final Four in March. Usually, I have some options of teams to root for. With college football I have always acknowledged that the Hoosiers are not going to be playing for the Rose Bowl, or at least not yet, so my expectations are low, and my energy as a fan shifts towards the game in general and the Florida Gators, the alma mater of my great uncle. This year, the season was thrilling from that standpoint, as the Gators took the title and through the leadership of their quarterback, symbolized toughness, character, and ridiculous speed and talent in a way that was encouraging and exciting.

Indiana Basketball has always and will always be my first love in sports. This year is a bit painful, but far better than the tortuous end to last year, and gutting of the program that resulted. I would liken the debacle to a bad trip to the dentist that starts off nice but suspicious with some tasty fluoride, gets a little prickly with the ice pick they take to your mouth, and then by the time they are finished flossing your teeth with the force of a weed-eater, you are left bleeding and wondering what you just paid for. Or like a coming storm where an absolute downpour comes out of nowhere, and before you know it, a raging wind has taken away your house and destroyed your whole town, and you’re left in the sunshine wondering what happened. Like this, the Hoosiers are now at the bottom, rebuilding, and moving up. And the sun is shining. That is not the worst situation to be in.

The Indianapolis Colts, most notably in the last several years, have been the pride and backbone of the city of Indianapolis. Consecutive winning seasons and playoff appearances, a Super Bowl Championship, records broken, and a new massive stadium have provided much for fans, including myself, to be excited about. Again this year, though, we have been confronted with the reality that such a streak of success can not always be void of disappointment. And as an NFL football fan in general, if you were excited at the beginning of the season (Titan fan) you are now probably beside yourself, and if you were frustrated at the beginning of the season (Arizona fan) you are now probably running circles around your cubicle dressed in a Cardinal uniform and making everyone you know crazy. Such is the joy and agony of sports.

At the height of this joy for some, and agony for others, we see the retirement of a man that has done a remarkable job being one of the most successful football coaches in history, while also building a legacy that is more about God than football. In other words, when people think about Tony Dungy, they will think about a faithful man who lived and spoke the truth of Jesus Christ, and also happened to be a darn good football coach. They will not just think of a great football coach who happened to speak and live the truth of Jesus Christ. That is remarkable. Though he was immensely successful, that part of his legacy is secondary. And it will become less primary as the years go on, I’m sure. But, all the while, you can never take away the fact that he went to the playoffs every season with the Colts, he coached through six consecutive 12 win seasons (are you kidding?) and won a Super Bowl. Very few can say those things. But for Dungy, all that is secondary, and such a mentality is not just a personal conviction, it is also publicly recognized as who he is. To not have your life characterized by what you do for a living is extraordinary, and it is even more extraordinary if you do this while actually being successful at what you do for a living.

Some will laugh and mock his legacy. Some will cheer at his departure from Indianapolis and pitch for aggressive, outspoken, mildly inappropriate leadership to compete with the rough and tough nature of the National Football League. Some will say the Super Bowl was a fluke and Dungy was never a Game Day coach. Some will say that his defense mentality was weak and naïve, and that he never prioritized a running attack because of his reliance on do-no-wrong Peyton. Some will criticize his use of challenges and his conservative approach to not going for it on fourth down. Some will write him off as a good man who had some success but was never hard-hitting enough for the NFL. Some will ridicule his profession of Christ and say that it held him back from greatness. Some will ignore his example and focus on football. Some will see his example and forget his brilliance with football. Some will celebrate his career now in light of his retirement, while their support for him before his retirement was lackluster if not nonexistant.


When you consider the agony of losing – and I do mean agony - losing in overtime because of stupid penalties, a ridiculous sudden death format that should only be for children trying to get home in time for dinner, a subhuman performance by a punter; after winning 9 games in a row down the stretch and having to travel across the country as a 12 win team to play an 8 win team - that is agony – when you consider this, how could any emotional-health conscious person actually not be enamored by the example of a man that lived and coached for more than that, and also happened to be really good? Why would anyone depend only on the success that is so elusive, and ignore a hope that can get you through the agony, and is deeper and more meaningful and more relevant and more satisfying than a bottle of Jack Daniels or a temper tantrum through the streets? If someone was a great football coach and was able to confidently and boldly characterize his life with something else, with someone else, why would you mock or ignore that? If someone could win, do it the right way, and when he didn't still be able to talk and think clearly and not be dominated by anger or regret or disappointment, wouldn't that be pretty ideal? Wouldn’t you like to have that? If winning is everything, after you win, then what?

Such ignorance is fortunately hard to find, yet is out there. Most see, appreciate, and will follow the Christ-like example of Tony Dungy. What I am taking from his legacy (which will continue to grow as he models “retirement” through prison ministry instead of collecting sea shells) is that it is possible to be hugely successful at your career and not sacrifice any of the witness or Christ-centeredness of you life; and it is possible in the end to make Christ more visible than your accomplishments, even if they are many.

1 comment:

Joey Elliott said...

If you don't mind some profanity, this blog post states my point in a roundabout way:

Its interesting too, because this same website is what generated my post in the first place.

Summary: "Because the truth of the matter is, Tony Dungy the coach never outshone Tony Dungy the man. Not once, in all his time here. And when we gaze back on this Era, that’s exactly how we’ll all remember him. For good or ill."

For good.