Sun, Dec 21, 2008 - Page 19 News List

NFL: Dungy savors 10th straight berth

AP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

The Indianapolis Colts’ head coach Tony Dungy yells from the sideline during their game against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 30.

PHOTO: AFP

Indianapolis Colts coach 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 Dungy still thinks he doesn’t belong in the same sentence, although the history books now tell a different tale.

Thursday’s victory against Jacksonville not only clinched an NFL playoff spot for the Colts, it also made Dungy the first coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to reach the playoffs for 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 on 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 teams, 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.

Since Dungy arrived in 2002, the Colts have won five AFC South division 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 used to say 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.

While this has not been a typical Colts season, Indianapolis 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.

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.

The Colts even thrived during a brutal schedule last month 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 on Thursday.

Clearly, much of this has to do with Dungy’s stabilizing influence.

How much longer Dungy extends the streak will be solely up to him.

He plans, as he has for 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.”

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