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On his way to the Hall of Fame, former Bucs coach Tony Dungy started slowly

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Long before those who run the Pro Football Hall of Fame were carving Tony Dungy‘s bust, fans were wondering if he was one.

These days, Dungy is acknowledged as a leader, a mentor, a champion. He has won a Super Bowl, and he guided a team to a Super Bowl, and he has become among the most respected analysts of the game.

Once, however, he was struggling. It was 1996, his first year with the Tampa Bay Bucs, and he was struggling. At the start of the season, there was a vote to see if the team would stay in Tampa. His star running back was holding out. His quarterback was throwing touchdowns to the wrong team.

In all, Dungy was 1-8. Hardly the steps of a man on his way to the Hall of Fame.

“I can’t say I never doubted,” Dungy said on a Hall of Fame conference call for his Aug. 6 induction on Wednesday. “I went in with high expectations. I thought we had a group of talented players and the right system. When you don’t win, it catches you by surprise.

“I was very surprised to be 0-5. That’s when you have to stay together and not doubt. I knew we’d get there, but the question was how fast this was going to take to turn around. I didn’t know how long the team would hang in there without seeing results. I remembered (former Steeler) Joe Greene telling me he was inches away from giving up before the team won its first Super Bowl.”

Of course, history tells us that Dungy would begin the era with the most payoff visits the next year. (Jon Gruden, however, won the Super Bowl).

“You think about the cream of the cream of the NFL being in there,’’ Dungy said. “To think that you’re going to be in that group is still hard to believe. I’m humbled, but it still doesn’t seem real. It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be very special.’’

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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