INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Dungy experienced some tough years during his 28 seasons as an NFL head coach, defensive coordinator and assistant before an amazing run leading the Indianapolis Colts from 2002 to 2008.
Dungy, a 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee who led the Colts to victory in Super Bowl XLI, knows success can blossom from adversity, however, and sees many parallels from the tough lessons he learned over the years in this year's Colts team.
As a coach and leader, Dungy knows how critical every snap and game is, no matter what's at stake at that particular point in the season, and recently shared an example from his first year as a head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996.
"Every game is important … my first year in Tampa we were 2-8 and we played a game in San Diego," Dungy told Colts.com's Caroline Cann last week prior to the Colts' Week 15 matchup against the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football. "We got down 14 points. We came back and won and I remember telling the team, 'I think this is where we turn the corner. This is a game we're going to look back on and say, 'Hey this might have been the start of something special.''"
His team, indeed, built momentum over the final weeks of the season and took it into the following year, winning its first five games en route to a playoff berth and improvement from a 6-10 record to 10-6, the Buccaneers' first winning season since 1982.
"You never know when that game is going to be, and that's how you've got to approach each one," Dungy said.
The Colts (3-11) wrap up their 2017 season on the road Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens before playing host to the Houston Texans on Dec. 31, two prime opportunities for the team and its players to do something special that can carry over into 2018, which is an exciting prospect for Dungy and his beloved former team.
"You know, you see the record and it's not appealing but if you watch the games and you see individual plays, you see the fact that we're close in so many ballgames," Dungy said of the Colts, who have had at least a share of the lead at halftime in 10 of their 14 games this season. "It speaks well for the future. And I think these guys are getting that experience, they're coming in to a winning situation. They'll be fine and I'm looking forward to next year already."
There is also a silver lining in the ever-mounting list of names that have been landing on injured reserve all season long: more opportunities to see general manager Chris Ballard's first draft class, as well as many other younger, undrafted players, in action.
The Colts' current active roster includes 28 players who have no more than two years of NFL experience, 10 of which are still officially in their rookie seasons. These final few weeks are giving those players, particularly, a prime opportunity to make plays — and even, make mistakes.
"That is one of the benefits that this coaching staff is getting," Dungy said. "You're getting a chance to see some players in live action that you normally wouldn't see. Get a chance to have them grow, and again, that's going to pay off in the long run."