Black men are certainly not in short supply on NFL fields of play, in fact, they constitute the vast majority of those in pads and uniforms. But when it comes to the skin tone of their bosses, there has been shockingly little rise in melanin count from the league’s earliest days when Vince Lombardi and his pack ruled supreme. One could reasonably cite racism as the cause of such a slow rate of progression. How else to explain the rationale behind Richie Kotite being hired to run more than one team over his career while a large number of qualified African-American head coach wannabes have had to wait and wait and wait for their shot?
The 2006 season began with 7 Black head coaches in a league of 32 teams. Two of them have since been fired and one team (the Pittsburgh Steelers) recently hired an African-American to be the man in charge of the troops, bringing the current total to 6. Two of those six, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, will face off against one another in this year’s Super Bowl. The odds of this happening were probably better than the odds of someone named Lovie ever being a professional football coach, but still, it makes for quite the story, an even bigger one than the castaways (This is not a Survivor reference, sports is my reality television) finally getting off of Gilligan’s Island.
Tony Dungy has clearly paid his dues, overcoming what would seem to be debilitating personal tragedy with the suicide of his son and fielding a football team that was finally able to get over the hump and make it to the big show. For this reason, coupled with the fact that Peyton Manning slings the rock with precision abandon and shoots some pretty funny television commercials, my rooting interest is swayed towards the Colts, especially since this season’s version of the Da Bears is no where near as entertaining as the last team they sent to the Super Bowl back in 1985 (has it really been 22 years since America experienced its love affair with William “The Refrigerator” Perry and I was pledging Delta Phi during my freshman year at NYU?). If I was a betting man, I’d gamble that years of getting so close without grabbing the cigar is enough to give Indy the advantage over Chi-town, even if the latter is my kind of town, Chicago is.
History in the making by a couple of class acts on the sidelines, the purple reign of Prince at halftime, at least one television commercial featuring the “talents” of Kevin Federline (who has somehow ended up looking like the classier half of his televised marriage to Britney “no need to put my baby in a car seat cuz I’m country” Spears), and a great offensive team going up against a great defensive one should make for quite a game. Since the NFL is famous for being a copycat league, perhaps numerous teams will go in search of a qualified black guy to be their head coach, much like many of them tried to copy the success of the west coast offense or the 3-4 defense in years past. Or will the NFL prove itself to only be a copycat league when the cat is a white feline rather than one who evokes fear simply by crossing your path? We’ll see soon enough.
My hope if not quite my prediction is that the appearance of Tony Dungy and Lovie “the millionaire’s wife” Smith will lead to social progress. If the Rooney Rule required any vindication, consider this year's Super Bowl to be it. Perhaps in the not too distant future the number of African American head coaches will reach double digits. Or maybe the impact will be even bigger than that. This historic Super Bowl may actually have enough impact to finally convince the powers that be to move the celebration of Black History to a month with more than 28-29 days.