29: Tony Dungy

29: Tony Dungy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 29 •

NFL Super Bowl Champion coach, bestselling author, NBC Sunday Night Football analyst

In 1998 I was coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Our new Raymond James Stadium had just been built, and it was a fantastic thing for the city and for the team. But the first event we had in the new stadium wasn’t a football game. It was a crusade, and we were very excited to have Dr. Graham coming.

The stadium was filled to the brim and it was a really exciting day all around. I had been involved in the organization of the crusade and that day I had the privilege of introducing Dr. Graham on the stage. I’d met him a couple of other times, briefly, but I had never before been able to spend time with him.

Dr. Graham delivered his typical, simple Gospel message. He just put it all in a nutshell and presented it so clearly. Then he asked people, “If you have heard this message and it has touched your heart and you want to respond, come down.”

It was like being at a game when the game had just ended. Everyone got up. It was amazing to sit there and watch and see the upper decks totally emptying and people coming down onto the field. It was one of the greatest thrills of my life.

I think the reason so many people came down was partly due to the preparation and the prayer that went into the crusades, and partly the simplicity of Dr. Graham’s message. It was plain but very vivid and he was so sincere. The message was, if you want to be redeemed, if you want to be helped, now is the time.

I’m used to altar calls at the church in which one person will stand up and then another person will come, but I had never experienced anything on this scale. This was a mass movement. Everyone came at the same time, everyone responded, and to see it from the stage, on the field, looking all around in this big new stadium, was just breathtaking.

For myself, I feel the Lord has given me a different kind of platform, but in many ways I try to do a similar thing. When you are involved in professional sports such as the NFL, people know who you are, and you can get large audiences. I’ve done press conferences with thousands of people watching and accepted a Super Bowl trophy with an audience of over 100 million people. I never expected to have that kind of audience for anything that I did, but it was there, so how was I going to use it? How was I going to let my light shine so people could see that what was really important to me was serving the Lord?

There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” so I looked at it that way. I didn’t separate my sports career from who I was. Who I am and what I do is much the same thing. When I was coaching I told a lot of Bible stories. We’d be talking about a situation and I would say, “This reminds me of something that happened in the Bible,” or “This is how Jesus handled this type of situation.” I definitely let my team know where I was spiritually. I didn’t expect them all to have the same beliefs as I did but I thought that a lot of the examples could help us, and they did.

Growing up in a small town I never imagined I would meet the people I have been privileged to meet through the NFL, including Presidents — Clinton, Bush, and Obama. It’s been exciting. I’m particularly grateful to Dr. Graham for his continual inspiration over the years. He was so impactful and effective, and his message changed so many lives for the better.

I have also been privileged to meet some of Dr. Graham’s family members. Clyde Christensen, an assistant coach on my staff, went to the University of North Carolina and got to know the family well. It was Clyde who introduced me to Anne Graham Lotz and her husband Danny, and to some of the Graham children. Clyde always talked about Dr. Graham’s simplicity and his humanness, how down to earth and genuine he is, and that is what has struck me in the times I have been around him. It’s like going to visit your uncle.

I really feel Dr. Graham has a calling. There are people in the Bible whom God touched and used to spread His message, and I think Dr. Graham is one of them. Paul had that gift, and so did John the Baptist, as well as others. I put Dr. Graham in that category of people who had the right words and the right personality and the right spirit that enabled them to have a real impact on so many different kinds of audiences.

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