TAMPA — Monday night belonged to Tony Dungy. The former Bucs coach was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dungy's first NFL team.
If it seemed strange that an NFL club would honor a man it fired and who never won it a Super Bowl, well, you weren't here back then.
Brian Hobson was. Hobson, an anesthesia technician from Trinity, arrived four hours early to the game — the Dungy game. Hobson's girlfriend bought him tickets for his 40th birthday.
"He made us proud," Hobson said. "Tony Dungy is really the one who put us on the map. He made us contenders. He made us relevant. He was contagious to his team; he was contagious to this town."
And then there are the men who played for him. They were there in force for the ceremony.
"He's the rock on the river bed," Bucs Hall of Famer Warren Sapp said. "It don't move."
"He means everything to me in my life," former Bucs runner Warrick Dunn said. "He challenged me to be better. He challenged me to give back."
"He was the heart of a champion," former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice said.
Dungy was the constant, even against the current of 10-loss seasons. He ended the jokes. He made the Bucs stand tall. He made a town rally behind a football team.
"In 1996, when we came down here to interview with the Glazers, my wife, Lauren, and I prayed and we prayed and we prayed because we wanted to come down here," Dungy said during the ceremony. "We felt this is where God wanted us."
The man is in the Hall of Fame, he won a Super Bowl with the Colts, but his best work was here. There's a 34 percent chance you and I could have won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. The real work came in Tampa Bay, where Dungy raised the dead.
Dungy Night was a night when the Bucs were trying to cement being back by going 3-0 to start this season. Dungy isn't stunned.
"When they did the press conference (for his Ring of Honor announcement), we were in the middle of training camp, and I told a couple of people that this kind of reminds me of us in '97," Dungy said last week.
Ah, the Dungy Bucs. They were worth remembering Monday. Leave it to Dungy to give you a Dungy answer when he was asked if he ever lost his cool while the Bucs were trying to build something. He remembered like it was yesterday. He actually raised his voice.
"It was a Wednesday morning, first season, and we're 1-8," Dungy said. "We're getting ready to play the Raiders. I came in, and there are two notes on my desk. Errict Rhett was 45 minutes late for an autograph session at a car dealership. Regan Upshaw was supposed to be at an elementary school, and it was rescheduled because he'd missed it the first time.
"I went in and said we're not going to say one word about the Raiders. I'm going to put these two notes up on the overhead. There were people counting on us. I said, 'We're never going to win until you guys get this straight,' in so many words, maybe a little louder. 'Until you guys fix this, we're never going to win.' "
They fixed it. And they won. Maybe not as much in the end as some people thought they should have, but Dungy and the Dungy Bucs gave us much more.
Monday, Charles at a stadium security gate said this was big.
"I'm looking forward to Mr. Dungy's night," Charles said. "I met him at church once, and he never stopped looking me in the eye."
Anthony Kevin Dungy made this a better place to live, first with a football team and always with a way of life and devotion that remains quietly strong. He makes us proud.