Ronde Barber, John Lynch and Simeon Rice reached the pinnacles of their respective NFL playing careers together, taking turns hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII in January of 2003. Fifteen years later, they could again share the NFL's brightest stage, earning the game's greatest individual honor at the same time.
That trio of former Buccaneer defenders moved closer to that honor on Tuesday night when each was named one of the 27 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018. That group was culled from an original list of 108 modern-era nominees, which was announced in September. In January, those 27 will again be pared down to 15 finalists, from which a class of up to five will be chosen for induction into the Hall on the eve of the Super Bowl.
This is the sixth straight year that Lynch has made it to the group of semifinalists, beginning with his first year of eligibility in 2013. He has also been a finalist each of the last four years. Ronde Barber made the semifinalist cut in his first year of eligibility. Rice has been Hall of Fame-eligible since 2013 but this is the first time he has been named a semi-finalist.
Lynch, Barber and Rice played a combined 33 seasons for the Buccaneers and were teammates from 2001 through 2003, a span during which Tampa Bay ranked first in net passing yards allowed per game (169.8), interceptions (79) and opponent passer rating (60.9). Rice was second in the NFL individually in that span with 41.5 sacks. During the 2002 Super Bowl season, the Buccaneers' top-ranked pass defense picked off 31 passes while allowing only 10 touchdown passes and a combined opponent quarterback rating of 48.4.
Lynch's 11-year Buccaneer tenure began when he was drafted in the third round in 1993; he finished his career with four seasons (2004-07) as a Denver Bronco. He was named to the Pro Bowl following nine of those 14 seasons. He is one of just three players in the Super Bowl era who has nine Pro Bowl selections but has yet to be elected to the Hall of Fame despite being eligible.
Barber was also a third-round draft pick by the Buccaneers, becoming Lynch's teammate in 1997. He would spend his entire NFL career in Tampa, setting franchise records for games played (241), games started (232), interceptions (47) and defensive touchdowns (14). He started 215 consecutive games to end his career, including an NFL record 200 straight at cornerback. Barber is the only player in league history to record at least 45 interceptions and at least 25 sacks.
A former first-round pick in Arizona, Rice was a free agent acquisition in 2001 after he spent five seasons with the Cardinals. He ranks third in franchise history with his 69.5 sacks as a Buccaneer, and his 122.0 career sacks are the second-most for any Hall-eligible player who is not already enshrined. He was the NFL's best pass-rusher for a sustained period, nearly a decade, as he led the league with 101.5 sacks from 1998 to 2005.
Lynch earned three first-team Associated Press All-Pro selections and one second-team choice to go with those nine Pro Bowl nods. Barber was an All-Pro five times, including three first-team selections, made five Pro Bowls and was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Rice was selected to three Pro Bowl squads and was an All-Pro four times, as well as the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1996.
Lynch is considered one of the hardest-hitting defenders in NFL history, and as a Buccaneer he earned the nickname, "The Closer," from Monte Kiffin for his penchant for game-sealing turnovers. Barber perfected his role in the Buccaneers' revolutionary Tampa Two defense, playing both on the outside and in the slot and adding 1,428 tackles to his interception and sack totals, a remarkable total for a cornerback. Rice was not only the NFL's sack king for nearly a decade, he was also dominant in the postseason, with seven sacks in five playoff games for the Buccaneers.
Barber, Lynch and Rice hope to join the three members of the Hall of Fame who played all or the majority of their careers with the Buccaneers: Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Sapp and Brooks were also members of the 2002 Super Bowl team.