By Barry Janoff
November 7, 2013: On Dec. 3, 2010, Dylan Rebeor, a 16-year-old wide receiver on the Columbia (TN) Central High School football team, passed away due to colon cancer. Later that day, the Lions won their first state title in 58 years.
Prior to his death, Rebeor made a request through the Make-A-Wish Foundation that his football team receive new uniforms and equipment for the following season. That request was fulfilled by a local sporting goods store.
In 2011, to honor his memory and commitment to his teammates, Rebeor's family and Russell Athletics created the Fight Like Dylan Award to donate apparel and equipment via a $50,000 grant to one high school team that has demonstrated determination through sports.
The first team to win the Fight Like Dylan Award was Edmonson County (KY) High School. The second recipient was Williamsport (MD) High School.
This year's Fight Like Dylan Award is open for nominations. Now through Dec. 2, people can go to a dedicated Russell Athletic Facebook page to submit an entry for Fight Like Dylan. According to Russell, people can nominate a player on a team or an entire team for the honor by "showing how they overcame a challenge or triumphed in the face of true adversity while embodying the spirit and courage represented by Dylan Rebeor in his battle against cancer." (Full details here.)
The award winner will be unveiled at the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl, scheduled for Dec. 28 in Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando.
Judges for this year’s award include Dylan’s mother, Heather Rebeor; Dylan’s former coach, Vance Belew; Russell Athletic ambassadors and NFL players Pierre Garçon, Mark Ingram and Colt McCoy; and Tony Dungy.
Dungy played safety for three seasons in the NFL (Pittsburgh Steelers, with whom he won Super Bowl XIII; and the San Francisco 49ers). He then spent 15 years as an assistant coach with several teams before making his mark as head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2001) and Indianapolis Colts (2002-06). With the Colts, Dungy became the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl when Indianapolis and quarterback Peyton Manning defeated the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Off the field, Dungy has been active in community affairs, including working with both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Among his current projects is All Pro Dad, an organization "dedicated to helping fathers become passionate about their role in their family’s life."
Since 2009, Dungy has been an analyst on Football Night in America, the show that wraps around NBC's Sunday Night Football telecasts, which have been among the highest-rated programs on TV this season. The upcoming schedule includes the Dallas Cowboys at the New Orleans Saints this Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs at the Denver Broncos (Nov. 17) and the Broncos at the New England Patriots (Nov. 24).,
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Tony Dungy about the NFL and the Fight Like Dylan Award.
NYSportsJournalism.com: Could you talk about the meaning of Fight Like Dylan and how it reflects on football and the NFL?
Tony Dungy: The players who are involved gravitated to this because it is all about a kid who was very unselfish and who wanted his teammates to have something they didn't have, even while he was terminally ill with cancer. That is something that, as a coach, you try to teach your players. Think of each other. Play together. So when you hear about Dylan's story, it is something you want to keep alive. I'm grateful that Russell Athletics is sponsoring this. I work with an organization, All Pro Dad, and we have teamed with Russell Athletics on a couple of different projects. The Fight Like Dylan Award is a very special one. It says a lot about Dylan and what he was all about. But it also is an opportunity to give back to high school sports. A lot of guys gravitate to that because our high school careers were special to us.
NYSJ: NBC's Sunday Night Football games this season have been among the highest-rated shows on TV. What does that tell you about the power of the game and the growing audience the league is attracting?
TD: It reflects the fact that more people want to consume more NFL information all year, and not just during the season and not just on days when games are being played. The thing that got me was during the Sunday Night Football game (on Sept. 15) when the Seattle Seahawks played the San Francisco 49ers. There was a 90-minute delay due to rain and lightning. We were filling time, looking at highlights, taking about news around the league. That one-hour 'show' ended up being the second-highest rated show on TV for the week! We were killing time, talking about football, and we ended up attracting a huge audience. So that is one indication of where the public is with football.
NYSJ: What do you see as the key challenges facing the NFL?
TD: No question that the biggest challenge and questions facing the league have to do with health issues, concussions and the safety of players today and in the future. The league has to show parents, teachers and coaches that what is being done will make the game safe and that it is doing all it can to deal with the issues of health and player safety. Parents out there have to have confidence that their kids can play football and be safe. They are the next generation of players. The league is doing a good job, college football is going a good job to make the game safe. There certainly is a lot more research being done on the issue of concussions and how to make equipment safe.
NYSJ: What other issues do you see impacting the future of the NFL?
TD: There is a challenge in getting players to understand that their lives off the field make a difference. When you see player suspensions, the use of performance-enhancing drugs and other [detrimental] situations, those things are huge when it comes to public confidence. We have an exciting game on the field; it's a game that people want to watch. But we have to make sure that it's safe and that it's being supported in the right way.
"We have an exciting game on the field; it's a game that people want to watch. But we have to make sure that it's safe and is being supported in the right way."
NYSJ: There are a lot of expectations being put on the shoulders and arms of young quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. If it's ten years from now, are we looking back at a golden age of quarterbacks?
TD: As a whole, the current group of young quarterbacks will pan out as well as the previous generations of quarterbacks. Every generation has players who do very well. What remains to be seen is whether or not this is a new era. Are you going to continue to get these really mobile, athletic guys? That's who the colleges seem to be cranking out. And coaches are not afraid to use them. Maybe this is a changing of the guard in that respect. But in terms of numbers, it's always going to be about the same. You are always going to have a handful of special guys every generation.
NYSJ: What about the place that Peyton Manning, who is a veteran and is still one of the game's top quarterbacks, has in the NFL today and in NFL history?
TD: [Laughs.] He spans at least two generations. He is a special player who is driven to play well and perform well and elevate the play of those around him. He plays for the passion of the game. Fans ask me why he continued to play after his neck injury and surgeries. He really loves everything about the game. He loves competing. And that's what makes him special.
NYSJ: Any predictions for Super Bowl XLVIII and the game being played outdoors in February in the New York area?
TD: It's either going to be a fantastic experience or a nightmare. One of the two. I'm not sure which. In Dallas [for Super Bowl XLV], that was a nightmare for the fans because of the bad weather. It was hard to drive around and to get to a lot of the events. But the game itself was great because it was indoors. New York will have a lot to offer to fans, especially if the weather cooperates. If it doesn't, having that ultimate game played in bad conditions, and having those two teams play in a game on a field that was hard to play on, it would be tough. But I'm hoping for the best. I'm hoping that the NFL and New York get to show off.
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