INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The twists and turns of Tony Dungy’s life always seem to have a Pittsburgh connection.

His conversion from quarterback to defensive wizard came with the Steelers. His coaching career, too, started with the Steelers. Even the philosophy and organizational skills Dungy uses today were developed in, yes, Pittsburgh.

Indianapolis might be where life has taken Dungy, but when he faces the Steelers, the Colts’ coach still feels a fondness for the town that gave him a chance to make it in the NFL.

“Just about everything I do in terms of getting the team prepared to the philosophy I have was developed in Pittsburgh,” he said. “Everything I believe in, I really learned from Coach (Chuck) Noll.”

Never mind that Dungy, with 103 career victories, is nearly halfway to Noll’s total of 209. He still frequently refers to his early days with Pittsburgh for lessons.

He credits Noll with helping to teach him the proper balance between football and life, and sometimes recounts the story of sitting in a room with three future Hall of Famers on cutdown day.

“There was a knock on the door, so I looked around, and I knew it wasn’t for them,” Dungy recalls often.

That episode taught Dungy the importance of meeting personally with players he releases.

But perhaps the most enduring lessons were the ones he got with his immersion into the Steelers’ tradition of playing defense.

When Dungy arrived in Pittsburgh, he moved first to receiver, then to defensive back. Suddenly, Dungy, who hadn’t played defense since junior high school, found himself trying to change his mind-set on one of the NFL’s toughest units. Instead of attacking, he learned to read and react, got lessons in tackling fundamentals and took instructions from four future Hall-of-Famers – Mel Blount, Joe Greene, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert.

Those early tutoring sessions helped Dungy master the mechanics of defense and adopt the approach he has perfected in stops at Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Kansas City and now Indy.

The Steelers still relish that tough image.

“That’s one thing Tony knows, the Steelers of the 70s, they were a tough football team,” Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said. “There’s a degree of style that goes with this football team, and I think we’ve been able to sustain a little bit of that persona.”

Dungy’s connections to the Steel City linger off-the-field, too. His wife, Lauren, is a Pittsburgh native and his in-laws, who will attend Monday night’s game, remain Steelers fans.

And he’s still grateful to the Rooney family, longtime owners of the Steelers, for giving him a start in the NFL. Dungy signed with Pittsburgh in May 1977 and became the first undrafted free agent to make the team in two years.

Whether he’ll see the Rooneys or any of his other old buddies Monday night, isn’t clear. But, clearly, facing Pittsburgh evokes special emotions in the usually unflappable Dungy.

“Anytime you get in that situation, you look forward to it,” he said. “What they’ve meant in my life and my time with the Steelers, it’s obviously special anytime we play those guys.”

Now Dungy faces another challenge – altering a lopsided series.

Pittsburgh has beaten the Colts 13 of 17 times, including nine straight counting the Steelers’ victory in the 1995 AFC Championship game.

The last time Indy beat the Steelers was Oct. 21, 1984, a game Dungy hasn’t forgotten. Then the Steelers’ first-year defensive coordinator, he cringed when Colts receiver Ray Butler caught a tipped ball and scored the winning touchdown.

“There are very few times you lose a game in the final minute, but it rips you up when lose that way,” Dungy said.

For Dungy, it’s a game that tugs at his emotions.

He appreciates what Pittsburgh did to launch his playing and coaching careers. The friendships he developed there still run deep, and his family ties to Pittsburgh have endured throughout a 25-year coaching career.

Now Dungy will put his personal feelings aside and follow Noll’s philosophy: Treat it like any other big game.

“Monday night, obviously, everyone wants to play well,” he said. “But when you’re playing division leaders and top teams, you look at the tape and you’re going to get yourself ready.”

AP-ES-11-28-05 1443EST

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