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Friendship comes before history

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MIAMI — Today’s Super Bowl XLI will not be just a historical
game between the first two of African-American head coaches to face each
other in the big game for the first time.

Bears coach Lovie Smith and Colts coach Tony Dungy Bears
coach Lovie Smith (left) and Colts coach Tony Dungy were friends long
before Sunday’s Super Bowl, and they will stay that way regardless of
the outcome, the men say.
AP PHOTO

Also, it’ll be an emotional match between close friends who
see each other standing on opposing sidelines.

The Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy and his former coach Lovie
Smith, who led the Chicago Bears to their first Super Bowl appearance in
21 years, have been buddies with mutual respect for each other as well
as a mentor-and-pupil relationship.

Their first meeting was during Dungy’s tenure with the Tampa
Bay Buccaneers, where he was head coach.

In 1996, he interviewed some eight candidates for an
assistant coaching job, and Smith was one of them.

“One of the first interviews that we did, I had a chance to
meet him, and I was just blown away in 15 minutes,” said Dungy, who was
at Tampa from 1996-2001, on Friday, “by not only his football knowledge
and understanding of the game, but just his approach.

“And I knew he was going to be a great teacher and a guy that
can relate to players and would get people to play their
best.

“I just felt here was a guy who thought very similar to me in
terms of your goal of making people better players, but also better
people. I knew he’d be concerned about the players that he coached off
the field as well as on the field, and I knew there wouldn’t be a guy
who would get a chance to play for him that wouldn’t benefit from
playing for him.

“So after about 30 minutes of the interview, it was a pretty
easy decision. And he’s been above and beyond what I imagined at that
time.”

Then Smith, who started his coaching career at the University
of Tulsa in 1983, was hired by Dungy and the Buccaneers as linebackers
coach, and it became his first NFL job.

Smith left Tampa after the 2000 season, and Dungy was fired
by the ballclub after the 2001 season before going to
Indianapolis.

Smith said that he absorbed so many things from Dungy while
working for him. They weren’t necessarily technical and strategic bits,
Smith said, and he really appreciates it, saying Dungy helped him to be
where he is right now.

“I was able to get from him as a man, as a person, how you
deal with people,” he said.

On Friday, both coaches held their final official news
conference before Sunday. Both coached posed together with the Vince
Lombardi Trophy for the first time leading up to the Super
Bowl.

But today’s game will not be about fanfare to renew their old
friendship. It is the most serious competition for those who play in the
NFL.

Asked if their relationship affects in the game, Smith said,
“whenever you get into sports in general, whether you’re playing,
whether you’re coaching, there’s going to be a winner and a
loser.

“I think in time, you have an opportunity to win, but any
given day, there’s one winner, and that just goes with the territory. We
realize that.”

No matter who wins, however, their relationship will be
everlasting.

“Tony and I will be friends long after Super Bowl Sunday, and
we’re going to share a lot of things together later on,” Smith
said.