Practice hard and play to win, but keep the competition in perspective.
"Run to win," former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy told players Wednesday morning at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast, quoting from the Bible.
"Don't win the game and lose your soul," Dungy said.
Players and staff from the Auburn and Northwestern football teams, competing in the Outback Bowl on Friday, joined high school athletes, business leaders and community members at the Hyatt Regency Tampa downtown for the annual breakfast. Coaches and athletes prayed together and shared the role faith has played in their lives.
In his 31-year NFL career, Dungy's teams reached the playoffs 21 times. He won the Super Bowl twice - as a safety with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979 and as coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2007. That means his teams came up short 19 times - some in heartbreaking losses - he told a crowd of more than 600.
When asked how he rebounded, Dungy recalled what Steelers coach Chuck Noll told him as a rookie: Welcome to the NFL. It's a great game, but it's just a game.
Even the most successful athletes can fall. Just look at Tiger Woods and Michael Vick, Dungy said.
Dungy said he does not know Woods, whose image has been tarnished by infidelity, but he served as a mentor to Vick, who returned to the field this year after serving time in prison for dog fighting. Dungy said he asked the star quarterback where God was in his life when he signed a $130-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons and his jersey was flying off the shelves.
Vick said he had been raised to believe in God and that he had prayed to play in the NFL. After he made it, he stopped praying.
"I said, 'Mike, what you realize now is you were asking for the wrong thing,'" Dungy said. "He was running the wrong race."
Vick now makes far less money playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and is not the marquee quarterback he used to be, but he's happier than ever, Dungy said.
Dungy also said he was praying for Urban Meyer, who recently announced he was taking a leave of absence after coaching the University of Florida to two national football championships.
Hearing Dungy refer to those three men's struggles was a tearjerker, said Stephanie Waiters, who works for Palmetto First Baptist Church in Manatee County.
Waiters set out at 5:30 a.m. with 25 Palmetto High School football, volleyball, basketball and soccer players to hear Dungy. She said Dungy inspired them to keep trying, even if they lose the big games.
Dungy praised Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and Auburn coach Gene Chizik for the balance they strike.
"They coach hard. They coach to win. They develop winners," Dungy said. "But they develop men in the right way."
Northwestern wide receiver Andrew Brewer, who has been active in expanding Northwestern's Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter, said he tries to keep things in perspective.
"Football is something we all do and we all enjoy," he told the crowd before Dungy's speech. "But it's not who I am. I'm a man of God and a man of Christ."