Family has always been bigger for Dungy

The news of Tony Dungy's son's death has affected people so much because of the coach's faith and big heart, Chris Mortensen writes.

Updated: December 22, 2005, 4:12 PM ET
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN.com

When I woke up this morning, I had a lot on my plate. Now, I have no taste for any of it. Not the NFL games. Not the Pro Bowl teams. Not rumors about coaches and executives on the hot seat. Not Christmas.

All I have is a broken heart for Tony and Lauren Dungy, parents of five children. Their eldest son, James, was found dead at 18 years old in his apartment near Tampa, Fla., this morning.

Who cares now that Dungy's Indianapolis Colts are 13-1 and not 14-0?

Tragedies and death happen all too frequently in our lives. There's just something about this tragedy that feels so raw and so hurtful that words cannot describe the emotions and grief. And it wasn't even my child.

Anybody who knows Tony Dungy understands these emotions. When I broke the news by telephone to Tom Jackson, my ESPN colleague, we could not disguise our broken voices and tears. I imagine there have been many of us around this league at every level feeling the same lows.

Of all of the wonderful people in the NFL, no man is more wonderful than Dungy. He's the role model in this league, but he's really a model who transcends the game. His football team means a lot to him. His faith and his family mean more, which is why this loss cannot be compared to any other Dungy has experienced.

I'll never forget the day Dungy was fired as the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When I had the opportunity to speak to him, he was doing fine, which was no surprise. His greatest concern was for his children, who were struggling with the rejection and the uncertainties that surrounded their future. James was about 13 or 14 at the time.

It reminded me of some wisdom that George Young, the late general manager of the New York Giants, imparted on me during this time of year, when we have to speculate and report on people's job security.

"Just remember to show some compassion," Young said. "When you talk about firing a coach, you're not talking about how it affects one man. You're talking about how it impacts 14 families -- the family of every assistant coach. You're talking about 30, 40, 50 people and a lot of them are children."

We sometimes fall short of that compassion. We simply attach a name to a team and a win-loss record. We almost never attach the hearts.

With Tony Dungy, it's always been easy to attach the heart, which is why it is broken today.

That's it. That's really all I can write about for now. Instead, I'll resume praying for this family.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen is a regular contributor to Insider. He chats every Wednesday in The Show.