Saturday, February 03, 2007

Making Super Black History

WHEN I WAS a little boy, my friend Roosevelt and I shared a zeal for football. In the realm of or second-grade fantasies, we were sports broadcasters who followed every season of the NFL. We documented out predictions for each season in a comic strip complete with dialogue, outrageous detail, and catchy cartoon figures.

Whenever we couldn’t agree on the dialogue or on who would draw what team’s figures, we’d have a fight. Whoever won the fight won the right to write or draw whatever he wanted. Our fights were always physical, but they rarely hurt each other. The one who was hit too hard or pinned to the ground during a wrestling match would only have to say, “Stop,” and that was that.

Back then, some thirty plus years ago, it never really crossed my mind that even though some of the players looked like Roosevelt and I, the coaches of our favorite teams did not.

Back then, the Indianopolis Colts didn’t exist, but the Chicago bears were in their heyday.

Now, all grown up and looking through the looking glass of my brief history in this incarnation, the coaches of a few of the NFL teams look like me.

Tomorrow, two of them will face each other in the first Super Bowl in history that features not one, but two teams helmed by Black men. Two Black men who consider themselves friends, just like Roosevelt and I, will fight for the right to call themselves Super Bowl champions.

How did this come to pass?

A little more than four years ago, [Paul] Tagliabue urged NFL owners to improve their minority hiring practices. At the time, the league had an appalling total of two black coaches - Tony Dungy and Herman Edwards.

Tagliabue appointed a diversity committee headed by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney that instituted a rule which required teams to interview at least one minority candidate for coaching vacancies.

The league now has a total of six black coaches, which is not a number to brag about. But the NFL will be quite proud on Sunday when Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts stand on the sidelines as the first black coaches in a Super Bowl.

Even still, as the full text of this article will tell you, things could be better. But Smith and Dungy have already made history.

Ultimately, the game will come down to which of the coach’s quarterbacks will execute. Peyton Manning will want to finally add the coveted Super Bowl ring to his padded resume, leading the Colts to their first ever Super Bowl crown.

Smith will want to coach his green quarterback, Rex Grossman, to a mature performance to give the Bears a chance to win their first Super Bowl in 21 years.

I must admit, I’ve got a soft heart for the Bears. They’re closer to my hometown of Milwaukee. And there’s something about Peyton Manning I just can’t get into.

Whichever team prevails, the coach will make history as the first Black head coach to win a Super Bowl.

But that’s not all.

A new wrinkle in the Super Bowl week routine, added months ago, briefly brought the coaches together during their morning news conferences. It’s believed to be the first time coaches have posed together with the championship trophy before the game.

As it turns out, the pictures will commemorate the Super Bowl’s first black head coaches — who also happen to be close friends. Dungy coaches the Indianapolis Colts, while his protege coaches the Chicago Bears.

When the photo session ended, they shook hands and hugged, and Smith departed.

“It’s a proud moment for me, an awesome moment,” Dungy said, “not only because of what that symbolized for African-American people and African-American coaches, but more than that because of who I was standing with.”

Each coach will do things differently and the same in an attempt to add their names to the legacy of this great sport.

Just like Roosevelt and I, no matter who wins, I’m sure both Smith and Dungy will be take consolation in the fact that someone they consider a friend will walk through a big part of American history.

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