Players Credit Dungy With Starting Title Run
The Tampa Tribune, published 27 January 2003

Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch hoisted the Lombardi Trophy high, getting their fingerprints on the silver hardware. Someone else's imprints are on the trophy, though not physically.

Former coach Tony Dungy deserves some credit for the Bucs' first title. Brooks said as long as the Bucs are based on defense, Dungy's imprint will always be there. He turned the franchise from laughingstocks and losers to a perennial playoff team.

The only losing season the Bucs had in Dungy's tenure (1996-2001) was his first year. Dungy is one of the first Sapp plans to see when he gets back to Tampa as Dungy lives two houses from him.

Sapp will have a simple message for the man who helped shape him into an All-Pro defensive tackle. ``Thank you, thank you,'' Sapp said. ``That's all I could ever say to a man that freed me up and made me the player that I am.''

Dungy was fired last January after the Bucs lost to Philadelphia for the second consecutive time in the playoffs. He packed his car in the middle of the night and drove away from One Buc Place. But part of him never left. The defense he created, which teams in the NFL have tried to copy, became the No. 1-ranked unit in the NFL and with a Super Bowl victory can now be considered among the best of all time.

Dungy, who was hired by Indianapolis shortly after he was dismissed by the Bucs, has been laying low in Tampa the last couple of weeks, not wanting to distract or take away attention from the Bucs' Super Bowl run. But his former players know he's enjoying their victory. ``He's somewhere smiling right now,'' wide receiver Karl Williams said. ``He knows that everyone on this team still loves him.''

``He deserves a huge amount of credit,'' fullback Mike Alstott said. ``He's the coach that really got us out of the hole.''

Jon Gruden, the man who replaced Dungy, praised his work all week, mainly the foundation he built in Tampa Bay. ``I thought Tony Dungy did a great job and I reaped a lot of benefits from his hard work,'' Gruden said.

One of the first phone calls strong safety John Lynch plans to make is to Dungy, that is if Dungy doesn't call first. ``Tony deserves a lot of credit and it's been so great to see Jon Gruden be the first to mention that over and over,'' Lynch said. ``Tony taught us how to play. He taught us how to conduct ourselves as professionals. He taught us a lot about life.

"There are so many parallels between having success in this league and having success in life. Tony's a tremendous head coach that we have a lot of love for. He can sit home and smile and know that he had a big part in this.''