The month of February is recognized as Black History month. A month where we celebrate impactful African American contributions in science, history, innovation, and much more. Perfect Performance will use this month to recognize “Black History” in football. We will choose historic figures and moments to discuss how it has impacted the game of football today!
This week we highlight the historic accomplishments of Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith in Super Bowl XLI. Super Bowl XLI contains many historic moments. This game featured the first ever opening kick-off return touchdown in Super Bowl History by Chicago Bears return specialist Devin Hester. This was the game where Peyton Manning won his first ever Super Bowl title after finally overcoming Tom Brady and the Patriots previous dominance over the AFC. This is also the first title the Colts Franchise won in the city of Indianapolis. All of these are great historic moments, however this game will be forever immortalized because of two men: Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. In the 40 year history of the Super Bowl, a team has never made it with a black head coach. Super Bowl XLI featured one on each team! Rarely do two coaches steal the headlines of the super bowl. But, it was hard for many people to ignore the historic significance of this moment.
Path to Super Bowl XLI
The connection between Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy dates way before their Super Bowl match-up. In 1996, Tony Dungy accepted his first Head coaching job for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His defensive coordinator during that tenure was none other than Lovie Smith. Together they helped popularize the “Tampa 2” defense that many teams still use today. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made multiple playoff appearances during their time together, but Tony and Lovie failed to reach the Super Bowl. They improved Tampa Bay’s respected defenses in the League, but their offense underperformed which led to Tony Dungy being replaced in 2001.
Now, fast forward to the 2005-2006 season where both men are head coaches of their respective teams and have two of the best offenses in the NFL. Lovie Smith, the Head Coach of the Chicago Bears, led them to finish the regular season atop the NFC with a 13-3 record. The Chicago Bears had a top 5 total offense and a very respected defense with players like Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and Charles Tilman. Tony Dungy, the Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, had one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne. Tony Dungy commanded the Colts to a 12-4 record and AFC South division title. This would lead to the Colts best postseason run under Tony Dungy defeating the Chiefs, Ravens, finally overpowering the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and eventually defeating the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
The significance of Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy both coaching in the Super Bowl reaches beyond football. I can remember being a kid on Super Bowl Sunday and my mother and grandmother both gathering to watch the Super Bowl intently. It was odd because they weren’t even huge football fans at the time and had no ties to the Bears or Colts. They expressed to me the importance of this moment and what it would possibly mean for black coaches of the future. Many black families across the country tuned in not because of the Colts, the Bears, the commercials, or the halftime show, but because we all knew, regardless of who won, we would be witnessing Black History in the making on that night. To finally see an African American, a black coach, lead a NFL team to the pinnacle of American sports, was so exhilarating and such an accomplishment.
Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith were trailblazers for many black coaches to follow. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin would become the next black coach to win a Super Bowl in 2009. This year, Super Bowl XLIV, featured the most diversified coaching staff with majority black coordinators, in the history of the Super Bowl. I believe that both Tony and Lovie would love to see more black coaches surpass even the levels of success. By becoming the first to succeed, it opened doors for many coaches that we see in head coaching positions in the NFL today, and some coordinators that many people believe deserve to be a head coach in the NFL. As we still advocate for more black Head Coaches in both the NFL and NCAA ranks, we thank Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith for being role models to pave the way and show that it can be done.