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Tony Dungy speaks outside the Capitol.

Tony Dungy spoke outside of the Capitol on May 11 in support of an on-campus football stadium at the University of Minnesota, where he played quarterback from 1973-76.

Dungy visits Minnesota to back new stadium

By Rick Moore

May 11, 2006

Tony Dungy, a quarterback for the Golden Gophers in the '70s and the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League, made a special visit to Minnesota on Thursday, May 11, to support a new football stadium on campus.

Dungy spent the morning under the dome at the state Capitol talking with University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks, visiting legislative leaders in the House and Senate, and meeting Gov. Tim Pawlenty. After the meetings, he headed outside the Capitol to address a crowd of about 150 supporters of an on-campus stadium, including student-athletes and alumni.

Perhaps fittingly, the temperature was stuck in the 40s and a brisk wind blew in from the west. As rally emcee Dave Mona pointed out, it was "a good day for an outdoor football game."

Dungy played outdoors in Memorial Stadium from 1973-76. By the time he left with a degree in business science, he had set career records at the University in passing attempts, completions, touchdown passes, and passing yardage. After a brief NFL playing career he turned to coaching. Dungy was defensive backs coach at the University in 1980 and returned to Minnesota as the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings in 1992. He went on to become the head coach at Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, and from 1999 to 2005 had more victories than any other head coach.

The soft-spoken Dungy said he has fond memories of playing at Memorial Stadium. "There's something special about running the stadium steps at your own stadium in the summer," he said, and added that just as living on campus gives you a different perspective as a student, "so does playing on your own campus."

Stadium bills at the Minnesota Legislature

Bills that would fund an outdoor stadium at the University of Minnesota have passed in both the Senate and the House. The Senate passed a bill on May 9 that would fund a $248 million stadium on campus. The House passed a substantially different version of the bill on April 6. For the stadium to be approved, the two versions need to be reconciled by the end of the regular legislative session, which must end by May 22.

He also noted the value of an on-campus stadium for alumni. "Coming back and enjoying a game and enjoying a weekend and knowing you're going to be on campus," he said, makes it "that much more special."

Heather Horton, a student-athlete on the women's cross country and track teams who's graduating with a degree in genetics, cell biology, and development, traveled to St. Paul to support what on-campus football would mean for all athletes in general. "It'll help all aspects of our athletic department, down to the smaller sports," she said. "It will also help the campus atmosphere" and add something "we've been missing for a long time."

A former football player, Doobie Kurus, arrived at the rally with his two small daughters in tow dressed in maroon-and-gold garb. Kurus, who came to the University from New Jersey, was a walk-on linebacker for the Gophers from 1991-94. While he played in the Metrodome, he remembers training at the old stadium right before it was torn down. "I think it was a wonderful venue. I'd like to see [football] return to campus, outdoors," Kurus said. "All I've got [from Memorial Stadium] is a brick and some memories. But I'd like to get some more memories."

Dungy said he was encouraged with his brief meetings with Minnesota legislators.

"As much as they could, they told me they think this is going in the right direction," he said. Dungy also pointed out that new football stadiums have followed his arrivals both in Tampa Bay and at Indianapolis. "I'm two for two, and looking forward to this being the third one we get built."

Bruininks added that now is a key time for Gophers stadium supporters to contact their representatives, with the clock ticking down on the legislative session.

"You win the game in the last quarter," he said. "This is the last quarter; we need your help."