February 21, 2014

‘It’s what you do every day’

Dungy says God, commitment and love are the keys to being good father, husband

Tony and Lauren Dungy discuss their new book, Uncommon Marriage, at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis on Feb. 11. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Tony and Lauren Dungy discuss their new book, Uncommon Marriage, at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis on Feb. 11. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Tony Dungy will soon share one of his favorite, funny stories from his relationship with Peyton Manning.

Yet right now, the former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts is telling a poignant story from his relationship with his wife of 31 years, Lauren.

The story begins with Dungy recalling a time in their home when the youngest of their three biological children was about 9.

“Lauren said, ‘Boy, this house is really quiet,’ ” Dungy recalled. “She wanted to adopt a child. I was OK with it, but really not on board. She did a lot of the leg work first. Then I went to talk to the person at the agency. When we were finished talking, the lady said, ‘Mr. Dungy, you’ve been awfully quiet. Do you have any questions?’

“I said, ‘I have just one. If we decide to do this—I’ve heard all the horror stories—how long is this going to take?’ And she told me something that just pierced me, and made all the difference in the world to me. She said, ‘If you’re interested in an African-American or biracial child, you could take a child home today.’ ”

Dungy had believed the process could take as long as a year. After hearing the timetable from the woman, Dungy focused on some of the beliefs that guide his life.

“I thought to myself, ‘If I’m saying I’m pro-life and I’m Christian, and I’m encouraging women to not have abortions and bring these kids to life, I’ve got to step up and meet that.”

The Dungys adopted a 1-day-old boy. In the 13 years that have passed since then, the couple has adopted five more children, the youngest now 9-months-old.

“At first, Lauren told me, ‘If we could adopt one more child, I think our family would be complete.’ And that was number four. And now we’ve got nine. I should have known it wasn’t going to be just one more,” Dungy said with a laugh.

The best time between a dad and his son

Dungy shared that story during a talk he gave at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis on Feb. 11. He was there to help mark the 100th Dad’s Day breakfast event at the private Catholic high school, an event that brings fathers and their children together on a monthly basis during the school year to celebrate their relationship. (Related story: Dad’s Day a time to celebrate fathers, their gift of children, founder says)

Started at Cathedral 12 years ago, the Dad’s Day concept has spread across the country and the world with the help of All Pro Dad, an international organization that Dungy helped found to assist men to become better fathers.

So it was natural that Dungy also shared some stories about his relationship with his children, including the moment when he asked his son, Eric, “What was the best time you had with me?”

“When we moved up here, all our stuff was boxed up, all his toys, his bicycle,” Dungy told the overflowing crowd of fathers and children. “So we thought, ‘What can we do to have some time while they’re moving?’ We got one of the broomsticks, and we got a roll of tape, and played tape baseball. [Remembering that moment,] he said, ‘Dad, the greatest time I ever had with you was when I beat you playing tape baseball, 22 to 3.’

“I said, ‘Really? Better than the Pro Bowl? Better than catching balls from [then pro quarterback] Kurt Warner? Why was playing tape baseball the greatest thing you’ve ever done with me?’ He said something I’ll never forget: ‘Because it was the last thing we did.’ And it made me understand it wasn’t the great things. It wasn’t the big things. It’s what you do every day.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without her’

Dungy’s appearance at Cathedral also highlighted the launching of Uncommon Marriage, the recently published book that he and his wife wrote with Nathan Whitaker.

“Just knowing where marriages are in this country and the fact that we don’t hold them in as high esteem anymore as maybe our parents did, we thought we could write something encouraging,” Dungy explained to the Cathedral audience.

In an interview after the talk, Dungy emphasized the role of faith—and a couple having a relationship with Christ—as a foundation for his marriage and all marriages.

“We really think that is what makes it, and gives you a chance,” he said. “Marriages are going to have ups and downs. They’re going to have difficult times. But if both spouses are focused on Christ and in following him, God will pull you together. That’s what we found, and that’s really the basis of the book.”

The Dungys also focus on two other key points in a marriage, with number two being commitment to each other.

“God puts marriages together permanently,” Dungy said. “And so you really have to be committed—that that’s what’s going to happen no matter what.

“And number three is communication. That when times are difficult, to make sure you’re communicating, you’re talking, and you’re listening to your spouse.

“If you have Christ in the center, commitment to each other, and communication, that’s when you have the chance to have a great marriage.”

Dungy’s eyes shined when he talked about his wife.

“The Lord brought her into my life in a special way. We couldn’t do what we’ve done if we had not done it together. We’re totally different. We’re very opposite in a lot of ways. But we’ve come to understand over the years that God put us together that way—not to be different, but to be complete. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Peyton tries to make another audible

In his talk, Dungy also focused on one of the great lessons he learned about family and football—a lesson that set the stage for one of his favorite, funny stories about Peyton Manning.

The lesson came from Chuck Noll, the only National Football League coach to win four Super Bowls. During Noll’s tenure as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dungy played for him for two years and was a coach on his staff for another eight years.

“As coaches on the coaching staff, he made sure we got home early,” Dungy told the audience. “He made sure we had family time because he thought family was so important.”

Noll stressed that family perspective so much that he made Saturday morning practices before a game open to the families to attend.

“So you were always able to bring your kids,” said Dungy, now a pro football analyst and commentator for NBC Sports. “He wanted the children to see where their dads worked and what went on. When I became a head coach, I wanted to do the same.”

Dungy followed that approach during his years of coaching the Colts.

“In our first coaches’ meeting, I said, ‘I want everyone to know that our building is totally on-limits to your kids anytime.’ I don’t think the guys took me seriously. About two weeks later, we’re in another coaches’ meeting, and there’s a big crash in the hallway. And nobody can figure out what was going on.

“Clyde Christensen, who also worked for me in Tampa, said, ‘Oh, that’s the Dungy kids in Tony’s office, tearing up the building.’ Once they knew my kids were there, they felt free to bring theirs around. That atmosphere was just tremendous.”

Still, Manning wanted to make an audible—naturally—to one part of the family-friendly plan.

“We used to do the Saturday morning kids’ day here,” Dungy said. “Our quarterback at the time didn’t have kids. And if you know our quarterback, Mr. Manning, he’s very focused and tunneled in. And about every three weeks, he’d come to me and say, ‘I know it’s great to have the kids here, but maybe we could keep them inside during practice so we could just keep our focus a little bit sharper. I’d say, ‘No, we’ll be OK.’ ”

Dungy then shared one last twist of that story. It happened during Manning’s first pre-season with the Denver Broncos two years ago. Dungy arrived in Denver to do an interview with Manning, by then the father of twins. Before he reached Manning, Dungy was greeted by another one of his former Colts playing for Denver.

“Brandon Stokley runs up to me and says, ‘Coach, you would not believe it! Peyton went up to Coach [John] Fox [the Denver head coach] and said, ‘Why don’t we have kids’ day on Saturday? We need to have the kids around more. I don’t understand why we don’t have our kids here.’ ”

Dungy flashed a huge smile as he finished that story.

It was the smile of a father who was happy to see another man realize the importance of being a dad. †

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