INDIANAPOLIS —In his current role as a football analyst on NBC, Tony Dungy says he tries his best to "stay neutral."
But off the air, Dungy makes no qualms about which team he's rooting for.
2017 Kickoff Luncheon at the Indiana Roof Ballroom
And on Wednesday, 15 years after team Owner Jim Irsay called to offer him the Indianapolis Colts' head coaching position, the Hall of Fame coach was back with the Colts in the heart of the Circle City as the featured speaker at the team's annual Kickoff Luncheon at the Indiana Roof Ballroom.
Speaking in front of a crowd that included Irsay, the entire team and its coaching staff, several key team supporters and sponsors — and even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — Dungy said, "It's exciting for me to be back and to feel the energy of this new season coming up."
"I'm working on NBC now; I have to stay neutral, supposedly," Dungy said with a smile. "My buddy (Rodney Harrison) who sits to my left every week keeps talking about the Patriots, and I try to remain neutral. But know deep down inside I'm rooting just as hard as you guys are week in and week out. Once a Colt, always a Colt."
It's been a year of transition for the Colts organization, which began the offseason with a search for a new general manager that eventually landed Chris Ballard, who had gained much respect as a talent evaluator with the Chicago Bears and, most recently, with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Since Ballard was brought on, the roster has seen a great amount of turnover from the previous season, thanks, of course, to the largest free agency haul in Colts history, as well as a talented eight-member draft class and a solid mix of undrafted free agents.
"Going into this year, you're going to see a lot of new faces," Irsay told the crowd. "It's going to have a different feel to it."
But, as Irsay quickly acknowledged: "We couldn't be more excited about getting things started." The Colts wrap up preseason play on Thursday night at home against the Cincinnati Bengals before kicking off the regular season on the road Sept. 10 against the Los Angeles Rams.
"We feel we can compete," Irsay said. "We feel, again, going into every year, we look to win the division — we really do — and we look to continue to get better as the year goes along. We think we have a lot of really exciting, young players, and again, just this being Chris Ballard's first year as GM, I couldn't be more excited."
For his part, Ballard and his staff have been working hand-in-hand with head coach Chuck Pagano and his staff to ensure the personnel being brought in matches the team's various offensive and defensive schemes.
"(It's been) very open, very easy to work with on a daily basis in terms of talking about players, them explaining the scheme and what they're looking for and what they want at each position," Ballard said. "It makes it a lot easier. And then the longer you're together — you know, the longer you spend together — you learn more exactly what they want. So, from that standpoint it's been really good."
To Pagano, one fact has been clear after now spending an entire offseason workout program, training camp and the preseason with the team's current 90-man roster: "These guys love football."
"They love to compete," he continued. "They've come together in a short amount of time. The 90-man roster from a year ago, start of training camp, to this year's 90-man, there's 53 new names on the depth chart. But to their credit, and the credit of the players that were in the locker room and our vets that are back, they've come together.
"They're a selfless bunch. Like I said, they work hard, they're determined, they're driven and they want to win, and they're willing to sacrifice whatever they have to do to sacrifice to win."
Asked by Dungy what fans should expect to see out of the Colts this season, Ballard said the expectation should be "a young team that will grow and get better every week."
"They'll be competitive, and they'll compete — and they'll compete and get better," he said. "And that's what you want to see. And it's a long season; I mean, it's a long 16-game season. That's what, I think, makes the NFL so great is they give you 16 chances to compete, and they're all important — every one of them are important. And I think you'll see our coaching staff do a great job with these young players — they already have — and it'll be fun to watch them grow here over the next year."