From "Quiet Strength," by Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker. Used with permission.
I don't have the strength or wisdom to get through a single day without guidance and grace from God. That became apparent once again as the naysayers were out in full force after the 2004 season. Our offense had been so explosive and had set so many records. People figured if we couldn't win with that team, we might never win at all. They said the Colts' "window of opportunity" was closing. I didn't think so.
Some were saying the following year's regular season was irrelevant for our team, that we would be defined only by what happened in the playoffs. I didn't want that idea to sink into the team's thinking. I believed just the opposite: if we did what we were supposed to do—in the off-season, in training camp, and in the regular season—the playoffs would take care of themselves. Eventually. Getting to the playoffs is really difficult. As always, we would have to show up ready to do our conditioning work in March, trudge through the heat of training camp in August, and play one play at a time all fall until we won enough games to get in. Then we would have to trust that we were finally going to play well enough to advance. That was the formula—no shortcuts.
Just like the lessons death by inches had taught us in 2004, I wanted the team to remember that one detail at a time builds the whole. Like my dad always said, the test would be easy if you did what you were supposed to do in class every day. Practice was where we did our job.
The trick would be keeping everyone believing in that formula. I had said these same things for three years, and we hadn't yet reached the Super Bowl. I talked to several of the team leaders to make sure they were still on board and ready to continue selling our vision. We had become a good team by the way we had done things, and I wasn't going to make any drastic changes.
The 2005 training camp started as uneventfully as our prior camps. I spoke to the team about family, as always, and then I talked about a Michael Jordan interview I'd seen on ESPN Classic. The interview was conducted just after the Bulls had been knocked out of the playoffs for the second year in a row by the Detroit Pistons. "Do you ever think you'll make it to the NBA Finals?" the reporter asked. My players in the team meeting room chuckled. Of course, we all knew that Jordan would go on to win six NBA championships.
I wanted them to realize that there was a time when even Michael Jordan kept getting close but didn't make the finals. When Jordan was asked about his team's inability to beat the Pistons, he said they couldn't worry about the Pistons. They had to keep improving their team until they could beat anyone—and that's what they did. I wanted us to take this same approach. Even though we heard so much about coming up short against New England, I didn't want us to focus our attention on them. I wanted to concentrate on us. That classic Jordan interview during the Bulls' building years was laughable in 2005. I hoped there would be a time when the questions about the Colts would seem just as ridiculous.
After starting the season 5–0, Leslie Frazier, one of my assistant coaches, bought me a blank journal. He had been urging me to write a book, and he was convinced that 2005 was going to be a special season. In October, it sure looked that way. Bill Polian, our president, has a great eye for talent, and he had put together a tremendous team. Our high draft choices were all coming through for us. And some of our lower-round draft choices, such as linebacker Cato June and defensive end Robert Mathis, were starting to play like Pro Bowlers. Our only real question mark was in the middle of our defensive line. Just before the regular season began, Bill had signed Corey Simon, a former Pro Bowl tackle who had been locked in a contract dispute with the Philadelphia Eagles. Around the league, Corey's signing was viewed as a coup that just might vault us into the Super Bowl. The way we played that first month, it was hard to argue with that. I still didn't think I would ever write a book, but I figured it might be worth keeping a journal of the season anyway.
According to my journal, we were studying Acts 15 in our coaches' Bible study at the time, and we'd been reading about Paul, who on more than one occasion suffered in a cold and damp jail cell. "Patience in waiting out God's plan," I wrote. "Do what you're supposed to do while waiting." I wondered if I could do it. I knew I couldn't if I had to do it alone.
That week we beat the Rams on Monday Night Football, coming back from a 17-point deficit to win by 17. Quite a swing.
Three weeks later, we played the Patriots in Foxboro again. We were undefeated, and New England was not playing that well, but even so, the media made a big deal of the game. I kept preaching to our guys that we shouldn't think about it being New England. We just needed to focus on the Colts. We needed to think about what it took for us to play well and not worry about anything else. Going into the game, I really believed we would finally play well up there. It was a night game, so I had some extra time during the day. I took my customary late-morning walk through Providence and the campus of Brown University. It was such a pretty fall day, I wished we were playing at 1 p.m. As I walked, I had a calm feeling inside; I was sure we were going to execute well.
We did just that. Peyton Manning and our receivers had a big game, as did running back Edgerrin James. We won, 40–21. Walking back to the locker room, I started to get concerned about how the media would react to this win. After beating the defending champs in their stadium, I was sure they would be ready to anoint us the new kings. Since we were just at the halfway point of the season, I wanted to make sure we didn't fall into that trap.
I went in to talk to the guys, and as I had so many times before, I used a Bible verse to make my point. "Pride goes before destruction," I told them. "We won big today, but let's not forget how we did it. We worked hard. This was only one game, and now it's over. We need to continue to do what we do."
As we turned our eyes toward Houston next, I was concerned about our guys losing their focus. We were 8–0 and had finally beaten the Patriots, while the Texans were 1–7. Our guys were being told from every corner of the globe how amazing they were. As I was thinking about the illustration to best drive home my point to the team, my kids gave me the perfect idea—McDonald's.
"The beauty of McDonald's," I said, "is that they are consistent. The reason my kids like McDonald's is that they always know what they're going to get. It's not gourmet food, but the french fries they order in Indianapolis are just like the french fries they order in Tampa. Wherever they get McDonald's fries, they know it will be the same. That's what McDonald's does. They don't make french fries in New England more special than the ones they make in Houston. We have to do the same. We can't view any game as more important than another. Just like McDonald's, we need to keep making the same good fries."