TAMPA – As a mentor to many troubled NFL players throughout the years, former head coach Tony Dungy has sculpted an image as a compassionate, trustworthy father figure. Dungy took this image to the next level Wednesday by taking Lil’ Franklin, a troubled 2-year-old box turtle, under his wing.
Dungy discovered Lil’ Franklin at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, where the box turtle had been snapping at tourists through the glass and refusing to eat the foliage in his exhibit.
Upon seeing the distressed turtle, Dungy reportedly began whispering to it.
“Look at you, little box turtle. You’re so lost. C’mere, Lil’ Franklin. I’ll help you. I will help you find your way.”
Dungy then pressed his cheek against the aquarium and began making soothing whistle sounds, his tears dribbling down the glass in a show of intense empathy.
Other guests were so disconcerted by the former coach’s behavior that security was summoned to attend to the situation. When Dungy was asked to leave, he demanded that he be able to take the turtle home. The security employee refused, but eventually relented when Dungy offered him $100,000.
“Fine, dude, the turtle’s yours,” said the man, shoving Lil’ Franklin into a sweatshirt and covertly handing it off to Dungy. “Just get the hell out of here before my manager sees.”
On the ride home, Dungy stroked the turtle’s shell with the back of his hand and spoke reassuring mantras to help sooth the reptile’s cagey temperament. He also showed the turtle clips of the 1982 film “Gandhi” on a portable DVD player, which he always keeps in his car in case of emergencies.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who spent a great deal of time with Dungy in Indianapolis, spoke to reporters Wednesday about Dungy’s overwhelming nurturing tendencies.
“Listen, Tony’s a kind, caring man, but he’s also a total weirdo. He’s very invasive when he thinks you’re having issues outside of football, which is pretty much always.”
Other players also echoed this sentiment, explaining that Dungy will always insist on asserting himself as a father figure, and that it’s best to just let him have his way.
When Dungy arrived home with Lil’ Franklin in the late afternoon, he put the turtle to bed to make sure that he got plenty of sleep for the following morning, when the two of them would be embarking on a busy day of church events and volunteering.
“Sleep tight, Lil’ Franklin,” Dungy cooed, tucking the turtle in beneath an old, tattered Dwight Freeney jersey. “Everything’s gonna be okay. You’re with daddy now.”
Lil’ Franklin died seven minutes later after choking on a pen cap.