Christian Coaches Face Off for Super Bowl XLI
For many people, football is religion. Superstar players are deified, weekly games are strictly observed, and everyonedevoted fan or notwatches the Super Bowl.
But for Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, football has not taken God's place.
The head coaches of the AFC champion Indianapolis Colts and the NFC champion Chicago Bears, who will lead their teams in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday, have a lot in common. As has been well documented, they share the distinction of being the first black head coaches in the Super Bowl. They are close friends, having coached together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for five years. They are also Christians.
"God is the center of my life," Smith told the media during a Super Bowl press conference earlier this week. "It controls all that I do. I hope I don't have to spend my time telling my players I'm a Christian. I hope they see it in my life every day."
Smith and Dungy are not just Christians when the spotlight shines on them. Their day-to-day coaching styles and set of priorities stand out among a league of coaches obsessed with winning at all costs.
The coaches in the headlines this regular season have been highlighted because of their animosity (Bill Belichick), duplicity (Nick Saban), and postgame electricity (Dennis Green). With only two coaches left to write about, the tenor of the articles has clearly changed.
"He does things the right way," Dungy said of Smith after the Colts and Bears each won their conference championship games. "No profanity, no intimidation, just helping his guys the best he canand that's the way I try to do it. I think it's great that we're able to show the world not only that African-American coaches can do it, but Christian coaches can do it in a way that we can still win."
The trait that makes Dungy and Smith excellent coaches is their ability to put things in perspective. During even the most stressful situations, neither wavers from his steady approach to the ups and downs that are inherent in a volatile game. Although their mild-mannered styles do not make great headlines, they have proved endearing to players who look to Dungy and Smith for leadership.
The best coaches have players who are willing to do anythingwithin moral and legal boundariesfor them. Dungy and Smith have commanded that respect because they love and discipline their players as a father would his son or God his children. And while a players' coach (e.g., Dick Vermeil) and a disciplinarian (e.g., Bill Parcells) can win Super Bowls, it takes a certain type of coach to lose Super Bowls well.
Will the losing coach of Super Bowl XLI be upset knowing how hard he worked and how far he came, only to lose the biggest game of his career? Most certainly. Will the losing coach be distraught and go into a three-day funk before beginning to scout college seniors? Most definitely not.
Both Dungy and Smith will be back at work, rededicated to another season, in due time. But they are perhaps most different in that regard. While the NFL has turned into a 24-7 affair where coaches like to brag about how late they fall asleep and how early they wake up (with bonus points for sleeping in their office or filmroom) Dungy and Smith have always made sure that their priorities are in orderGod comes first, family comes second, and football is a distant third.
This hierarchy was most recently apparent shortly before last Christmas, when Dungy's 18-year-old son, James, committed suicide. After taking a few weeks away from football to grieve, Dungy returned to the field with a professionalism that served as a witness to his deeply held faith.
From 2005 to 2007, "Play Ball" examined the relationship of sports and faith: sports is important precisely because it is a form of play, that is, a manifestation of the Sabbath. Contributors included Mark Galli, Collin Hansen, Mark Moring, and others.
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