Tampa Bay’s ‘Ring of Honor’ for Dungy… But Is It A Year Late?

TAMPA, MAY 18, 2018 – On the 24th of September this year at the Monday Night Football game between Tampa’s Bucs and Pittsburgh’s Steelers, a truly special event will take place for former Steelers’ Defensive Back and former Bucs’ Head Coach Tony Dungy – his induction into the Buccaneers’ ‘Ring Of Honor.’  It will be the second straight year the Bucs have decided to have the event take place during their lone prime-time game… but we’ll get back to THAT point in a minute…

Honoring Dungy during a nationally televised game makes sense, especially since he came into the league with the Steelers in 1977, undrafted as he was from the University of Minnesota.  Dungy spent two years with the Steelers, another with the Niners in 1979 and ended his playing career with the Giants in 1980.  A year later he was back with the Steelers for another eight years as the Defensive Backs Coach (’81-’83) and Defensive Coordinator (’84-’88), before moving on to Kansas City and then to the Minnesota Vikings as their Defensive Coordinator (’92-’95).

It was as Dennis Green’s D-Coordinator that Dungy came to prominence as the Vikings’ Defense was ranked first in the league.  Dungy was a ‘Hot Coach on the Rise,’ and he parlayed that success to accept his new position – Head Coach: Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996.  Again, his Defenses with his sidekick D-Coordinator Monte Kiffin wreaked havoc in the league.  However, guiding Tampa to the Playoffs wasn’t enough for owner Malcolm Glazer, who fired Dungy in January 2002, primarily due to feeling the Coach’s offenses were ‘too conservative.’

Enter Jon Gruden, who left a Raiders’ team (who’s owner Al Davis was distressed with HIS Coach not being able to get their team ‘over the hump’ as well) for Tampa.  Gruden didn’t touch the Dungy/Kiffin Defense, working solely on fixing the Buc offense, which he was quite successful in doing.  The Bucs FINALLY won the NFC Championship and faced Gruden’s former Raider squad in Super Bowl XXXVII.

As seen in the famous NFL Films presentation, Gruden had Kiffin’s Defense sharp and focused in facing a Silver and Black squad he knew intimately… and the result was infamous if you’re a Raiders’ fan – a 48-21 destruction  that wasn’t close after a 3-3 tie ending the 1st Quarter.

The Bucs had FINALLY won the prize thanks to Gruden… and thanks to him NOT doing anything to disrupt Tampa’s Defense under Kiffin (and the shadow of Tony Dungy).  Dungy had gone on to coach Indianapolis two weeks after his dismissal in Tampa, and his job was similar to Gruden’s, only in reverse… fix the Colts’ woeful  to average Defense, as future Hall of Famers in Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, along with the rest of the Colt Offense were already a juggernaut.

A little over five years later, Dungy would FINALLY get his due, winning Super Bowl XLI 29-17 over the Bears in a rainy Miami affair.  After two further seasons with the Colts, Dungy retired in January 2009, and was honored by the Colts in their ‘Ring of Honor’ in November 2010.  Dungy’s ultimate honor in football came in August 2016 when his bust went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, alongside his Colt Wide Receiver Harrison.

And so it is that Dungy will ascend to the Buccaneers’ ‘Ring of Honor’ this September, a full year after Coach Jon Gruden was honored during a Monday Night Football broadcast where the ex-Raider and Buc Coach called the game from the broadcast booth.

The irony is not lost on some in the Tampa Bay area with Dungy following Gruden.  Gruden won a Super Bowl first, as Dungy won his Lombardi a full five years later.  It is the pro-Dungy apologists who state it should have been the soft-spoken but still loved long-time Buc Coach honored in the Buccaneer ‘Ring of Honor’ well before Gruden; after all they say, all Gruden did was win a Super Bowl with ‘Tony’s Team.’

Those words have been leveled towards Gruden for years, and he is having none of it.  I saw Gruden’s response personally during a speaking engagement before the military in Tampa in August of 2017, well before he accepted his ‘second tour of duty in Oakland.’  I’m not sure if the gentleman who asked him was ‘pro-Raiders’ or ‘pro-Dungy,’ but when the ‘Winning with Dungy’s Team’ charge was espoused, the famous Gruden-scowl was followed by a simple finger gesture.

No, it wasn’t the ‘One Finger Salute’ you may have thought, but it was the more direct (and classy) showing of a finger with a jeweled-ring on it… and an off-the-cuff comment (not remembered) to defuse the situation and inspire laughs and cheers from the crowd.

Honestly, I agree with Gruden, as winning a Super Bowl is a TEAM effort, and his work with Tampa’s offense and their players – Brad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Mike Alstott, Michael Pittman and the rest of the Buc O is just as important as the effort of the Dynastic ‘Tampa 2’ Defense.

You don’t agree with me? Then ask yourself this… how many people think Tony Dungy won HIS Super Bowl with “Jim Mora’s Team?”  After all, the Colts’ Offense was already in place for Dungy, and his job was to fine-tune the Indy Defense to a Championship level.  Dungy DID make the Colt Defense a force to be reckoned with, but it took him five years to take the ultimate prize, whereas Gruden did it in one.

The fact remains that BOTH Gruden and Dungy are deservedly honored at Ray Jay, although the latter will need to wait until September to actually have the privilege bestowed officially as the 12th member of the ‘Ring of Honor.’  Looking up in the stadium and seeing the names… Selmon… McKay… Giles… Brooks… Alstott… Williams…Lynch… it honestly doesn’t matter the order was Gruden/Dungy and not Dungy/Gruden.  Both men are deserving, both won the Lombardi, and Dungy honestly has one ring which Gruden does NOT have presently – a HOF ring.

Give Gruden time though… as he’s back on a mission in Oakland.  Gruden may yet have to FOLLOW DUNGY into Canton, but I’m not sure he’d mind being a follower in that respect.

Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor