THEY SHARE a bond beyond being highly successful coaches in the National Football League.
Tony Dungy, who became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl, and Eagles coach Andy Reid have had their own personal battles through the years that are far more important than any they've faced on the field.
Dungy's son, James, took his own life in 2005 at age 18. Reid's sons, Garrett and Britt, have battled legal and drug problems for a few years now.
Perhaps that unfortunate bond is what helped land embattled quarterback Michael Vick on the Eagles roster. The Birds signed Vick to a contract on Thursday night, just a few months after he served an 18-month federal prison term for running a dogfighting operation.
Dungy, who led the Colts to the championship in 2007 and retired after last season, has mentored young players for 13 years. He sat on the dais at the NovaCare Complex yesterday at a news conference with Reid and Vick, whom he is advising as the former Atlanta Falcon tries to get his life in order.
Reid said he had thought about Vick's playing on his team for a long time.
Owner Jeff Lurie, a dog lover, needed some major convincing to approve the signing of Vick. Dungy provided it.
"Coach Dungy is somebody, who there's only a handful of people in the NFL that I just completely respect their integrity, their honesty, and their commitment to doing the right thing in the community," Lurie said. "Tony has spent so much time in prisons, so much time dealing with people that, for whatever reason, did horrendous things. He was absolutely 100 percent sure that there was an opportunity here if Michael could be in the right situation to do societal good."
Lurie talked openly of his hesitance to give his approval to Reid to sign the 29-year-old Vick, citing his extreme love of canines.
The one settling influence for the owner seemed to be Dungy.
Dungy and Vick met in 2004 in Japan while promoting a game between the Falcons and the Colts, Dungy said. They talked of getting together, but it did not happen. Dungy thinks that if it had, Vick's troubles might have been nipped in the bud.
"I was with Michael three or four times driving in the limos or whatever, and we were talking about fishing and that we both liked to fish," Dungy said. "We talked about getting together back in the States and going fishing. We just could never quite pull it off. When the whole dogfighting thing came out, I just thought, 'Man, if we'd have had that 10-hour fishing trip and the [dogfighting] came up, maybe I could have talked to him.' ''
Dungy has an unwavering desire to help people. He epitomizes calmness, even yesterday when 150-plus media members tried to ask questions as to why the Eagles would take a chance on someone with such a spotted background. He didn't claim to have a definitive answer, but, just as he had with Reid, told the truth about how far he thinks Vick has come.
"We got to sit down for about 3 hours [in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary a couple of months ago, where Vick was serving his time]. We talked about a lot of things. We talked about where he wanted to go in the future. My dad always said to me, 'Don't worry about where you are so much; where are you going to go, what are you going to do to make it better?'
"Him [Vick] saying 'Hey, be careful who you hang out with, be careful what you get involved with, be careful with your thought processes,' is gonna resonate much more than me saying it. He has a chance to do something special. That's what we talked about.
"I have the gut feeling that that's what he wants to do. That it's important to him that other young men don't make some of the same mistakes that he did. So we kind of committed to stay together, and I gave him my number. He didn't have any calling privileges in Leavenworth, but once he got out, we said we'd get in touch, and we did. And [NFL commissioner] Mr. [Roger] Goodell picked up on that - I think through Michael - and he called and said, would I do it and stay with Michael on a more formalized basis. I told him I'd be glad to."
Had he not, the firestorm that has hit this area probably wouldn't have come about. And the fact that it did is still shocking to many who have loyally followed the midnight green during the Reid era, where character counts as much as ability.
"I think it's going to work out great," Dungy said. "I told Mike I didn't think he could be with a better organization. From my dealings with Andy and Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner, I know they're going to have as great a support system here in place for him. And I am also very proud of Donovan McNabb. He went out of his way to tell coach Reid we should make this happen.
"I think Donovan is going to be critical. I applaud him. He could very easily have said, 'I'm at the end of my career, I want to win a Super Bowl, that's what I'm focusing on the next 3 or 4 years.' But he didn't. He said, you know what, I want to help someone. To me, that's tremendous.