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Foot in the door

Sports | Super Bowl XLI is a triumph of pro football's Rooney Rule

Issue: "Marathon man," Feb. 17, 2007

It took several moments for Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy and Chicago coach Lovie Smith to find each other after the final whistle officially ended Super Bowl XLI. This time, it was Indianapolis that prevailed in a 29-17 victory that gave the long-suffering Colts a place in the record books.

But there was no scoreboarding when Dungy sought out his old friend after the game. "I just told Lovie how proud I was of this whole moment," Dungy said, remembering how he hired Smith as an assistant while coaching Tampa Bay in 1996. "I really appreciate what he has done in Chicago-the way he does it, the type of person he is. They're going to get their championship soon."

Dungy and Smith's presence in the 41st Super Bowl points to the success of the so-called Rooney Rule-a mild form of affirmative action designed to help black coaches break into the previously white-dominated world of NFL coaching. Today, the NFL has six black head coaches. Two of them coached the Super Bowl teams.

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Without the stigma of affirmative action and quota programs in the political world, the NFL's Rooney Rule has led to small but important changes in how the NFL does business with black coaches. Devised by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney and implemented in late 2002, the rule requires NFL teams to interview one minority candidate when hiring a head coach.

And though the rule makes no requirement about hiring the minority candidate, a few black head coaches today credit the rule for their jobs in the league. In Pittsburgh, former Minnesota assistant Mike Tomlin seemed like a long shot prior to the interviews. But once in the interview room, the 34-year-old coach impressed Steelers officials enough to become their next head coach. Even Smith, the Bears coach, credits the league's policy for his place in the game. "I am here because of the Rooney Rule," Smith told reporters during Super Bowl week. Political debates aside, that seems like a good thing.

Around the Horn

SOCCER: The Afghan soccer team was forced to give up its shot at an Olympic berth when the team could not afford to travel to Vietnam for a qualifying match, said Afghanistan's national soccer coach. A sponsorship offer from the private Kabul Bank came in too late to make a difference and officials also worried about the level of security they could provide for return matches in the war-torn nation.

GAMBLING: Back from a Las Vegas binge, former basketball star and current TNT studio commentator Charles Barkley says he has a gambling problem. Sir Charles admitted to reporters that gambling had taken over his life even after returning from Las Vegas with $700,000 in winnings. That's because Barkley says he's lost about $10 million gambling, including one night last year when he lost $2.5 million in about six hours. "It's a stupid, bad habit. I have a problem," Barkley said. "But the problem is when you can't afford it. I can afford to gamble. I didn't kill myself when I lost two and a half million dollars. . . . I like to gamble and I'm not going to quit."

BASEBALL: Perhaps following in the footsteps of one-time teammate Sammy Sosa, former Texas slugger and two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez says he'd like to return to baseball after missing the 2006 season. With 434 home runs, Gonzalez needs probably two good seasons to make it to the 500-home-run plateau and boost his Hall of Fame potential.


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