Opposing ballcarriers never wanted to see John Lynch coming. Canton, on the other hand, is ready to welcome the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star with open arms.
On Saturday, Lynch received football's highest individual honor, as he was chosen to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021. His formal induction into the Hall of Fame next summer will celebrate a storied 15-year playing career that included nine Pro Bowl selections, four Associated Press All-Pro awards, a Super Bowl championship and inclusion in the Rings of Honor of two different NFL franchises. Lynch was also known as one of the hardest hitters in NFL history.
Lynch becomes the fourth player in the Hall who spent all or the majority of his career with the Buccaneers, joining Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and Lee Roy Selmon. Lynch was long-time teammates with Brooks and Sapp and that trio was known as "The Big Three," the core of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and the driving force behind the turnaround of a franchise. They won a Super Bowl together at the end of the 2002 season.
"John was one of the greatest Buccaneers of all time and our family is so proud of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said Buccaneers Owner/Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer. "He is a class act on and off the field and is truly deserving of this honor. It is only fitting that he will be acknowledged in front of fans for the first time as a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2021 on the same field where he developed into an NFL legend."
The Hall of Fame Selection Committee traditionally meets on the eve of the Super Bowl to select a maximum of five new Hall of Famers from among 15 finalists. This year, however, the Committee met virtually and held its vote on January 19, with the results remaining secret until the NFL Honors program on Saturday night.
Two former Buccaneers were among the 15 finalists this year but cornerback Ronde Barber, a finalist for the first time, was not selected for induction into the Hall of Fame.
Lynch, who has been a finalist every year since 2014, had to wait a little longer than most who have made the Hall but the timing of his selection couldn't have been more perfect. Lynch began his playing career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993 and he is back in his first NFL home to attend Super Bowl LV, which will be held at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Lynch's original team, the Buccaneers will be the first team ever to play a Super Bowl on its home field when it takes on the Kansas City Chiefs. Lynch is now the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers and a year ago his team met the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
As a safety, Lynch played a position that has historically been under-represented in the Hall of Fame. However, this is the fourth straight year that the position has had at least one representative in the Hall's new class. Brian Dawkins was chosen in 2018 and Ed Reed followed in 2019 before both Steve Atwater and Troy Polamalu gained admittance last year. Lynch is a fitting representative for that position, as he mastered every aspect of it, providing punishing hits on ballcarriers and pass-catchers and repeatedly producing game-changing turnovers.
"John was as good as any safety I ever played against," said Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. "He reminded me a lot of guys like Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater. He was a terrific player, a great defender, a fierce defender. He could knock the snot out of you. John Lynch didn't just play the position – he occupied a spot in your mind and you had to be aware at all times where he was on the field."
Sanders isn't the only Hall of Famer who will welcome Lynch's bronze bust joining his own in Canton. Former Oakland Raiders Head Coach John Madden – who like Lynch also forged a successful career in broadcasting – saw enough of Lynch from the broadcast booth to know he was watching a future Hall resident. And Gonzalez, the former Kansas City and Atlanta tight end, will be happy to show Lynch around after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year.
"Over the years, I've had as much respect for John Lynch as anyone who played the game," said Madden.
Added Gonzalez: "At his peak, John Lynch had no weaknesses. It was a different game back then -- it was a time made for John Lynch."
There are now nine individuals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who have connections to the Buccaneers. In addition to Brooks, Sapp and Selmon, Lynch also joins Randall McDaniel, Ron Wolf, Steve Young, Tim Brown and Tony Dungy in that fraternity. Dungy, in particular, built a good portion of his Hall candidacy in Tampa, where he helped revive a franchise that had suffered through 15 straight losing seasons, guiding it to the playoffs in four of his six seasons as the head coach. Wolf was the Buccaneers' vice president of operations when the franchise was born in 1976. Young spent two seasons in Tampa between his stint in the USFL and his long run in San Francisco. McDaniel and Brown played mostly for the Vikings and Raiders, respectively, but finished their careers with the Buccaneers.
It was, in fact, the arrival of Dungy in 1996 that kick-started Lynch's career and put him on the path to Canton. A third-round draft pick by Sam Wyche's Buccaneers in 1993, Lynch started just 10 games in his first three seasons and was not always considered a good fit by Defensive Coordinators Floyd Peters and Rusty Tillman. Lynch blossomed immediately in the defense installed by Dungy and Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, becoming a full-time starter in 1996 and a Pro Bowler by 1997. Lynch would be chosen for the all-star game in five of the next six seasons in Tampa, while winning first-team AP All-Pro honors in 1999 and 2000.
"John's career was defined by so much more than just tackles, interceptions, Pro Bowl selections and his Super Bowl win," said Dungy. "He was a leader who played the toughest position that there was to play in our defense in Tampa. In many ways, John was the glue that held that defense together. Then he went to Denver and had tremendous success there as well. The fact that he has been inducted into the Ring of Honor for both the Buccaneers and Broncos tells you what a special player and person he was in both those communities. I look forward to welcoming him into the fold as the newest member of the Hall of Fame."
Lynch also recorded at least two interceptions in each of his last nine seasons in Tampa, and he was given the nickname "The Closer" by Kiffin because his takeaways tended to come in crucial moments. In fact, of the 26 career interceptions that Lynch logged, 14 occurred in the fourth quarter of games, and 11 of those 14 came with his team either up or down by one score. All but five of those 26 interceptions helped his team win the game.
The pinnacle for Lynch during his tenure with the Buccaneers came in 2002, when he and the NFL's number-one ranked defense led the team to its first league title and a blowout 48-21 win over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. Tampa Bay sported the NFL's top pass defense that season, as well, incredibly holding all opposing quarterbacks to a combined passer rating of 48.6. In an eight-year span from 1996-2003, Lynch was a starter and a key component on a unit that ranked in the NFL's top 10 in pass defense seven times, including five top-five finishes.
"I am extremely honored to welcome John into the Pro Football Hall of Fame," said Brooks. "John was a crucial part of our nucleus that made our defense so dominant in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He is absolutely deserving of this crowning career achievement which recognizes his greatness as a player. I am thrilled for him and his family and am very grateful that this day has finally arrived."
After his final season in Tampa, Lynch joined the Broncos and adapted quickly to a defense that gave him more responsibility around the line of scrimmage and asked him to rush the passer more often. Seven of his 13 career sacks came during those four years, and each of those campaigns ended in another Pro Bowl berth. That gave him nine career Pro Bowl invitations as a safety, tied for the second-most in NFL history; only Ken Houston, with 12, had more. His four years with the Broncos were so impressive that the franchise inducted him into its Ring of Honor in 2016; the Buccaneers welcomed him into their Ring of Honor that very same year.
In all, Lynch played in 224 regular-season NFL games and compiled 1,059 tackles, 26 interceptions, 68 passes defensed, 13.0 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries. He is one of only nine players in NFL history to record at least 1,000 tackles, 25 interceptions, 15 forced fumbles and 10 sacks.
Like Brooks, Sapp and Selmon before him, Lynch was undoubtedly one of the greatest players in Buccaneers franchise history. Now that honor extends beyond Tampa as he will reside among the best in the history of the National Football League.