John Lynch went to Stanford in 1989 as a two-sport athlete, a pitcher in baseball and a quarterback on the gridiron. After two years he had seen only limited playing time in football but he was clearly a promising player on the diamond. So much so that the expansion Florida Marlins made him the 66th overall pick in the 1992 draft. Lynch later threw out the first pitch in franchise history. On Sunday night, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Obviously, something changed.
That same year, Lynch had played safety for Stanford, one year after transitioning from quarterback under Head Coach Denny Green. Legendary coach Bill Walsh returned to Stanford in 1992 and told Lynch what he needed to hear in terms of his future and his choice of sports. Walsh showed Lynch a short tape reel of about five plays from legendary NFL safety Ronnie Lott, and then matched it up with some clips from Lynch's junior year.
"[I] believed that baseball was going to be my future," said Lynch during his enshrinement speech on Sunday night. "Enter the late, great Bill Walsh. Coach Walsh had returned to Stanford as our head coach in 1992 when Coach Green accepted the head job for the Minnesota Vikings. One day, I received a call from Bill: 'Hey, John, this is Bill Walsh. I've been studying our defense last year and, John, you were our best defensive player.' Shocked, I said to him, 'Coach, with all due respect I played safety for one year and I played half the snaps. How could you possibly arrive at that opinion?' He said, simply, 'The film. I watched it, and you can be a Pro Bowl safety in the NFL.'"
And so he was. Not only did Lynch win two first-team and two second-team Associated Press All-Pro honors, he was also voted into the Pro Bowl nine times. A key figure in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl XXXVII championship season, Lynch was also known as one of the hardest-hitting defenders in NFL history. His long wait – he was a finalist eight times before his final knock from the Hall – was surprising but it gave him time to think about everything that brought him to the stage in Canton. During his acceptance speech he first mentioned his wife, Linda, who would give him a personal note before every game he played.
"What a privilege to be inducted into this brotherhood, the Pro Football Hall of Fame with all of you," said Lynch to a large crowd at Tom Benson Stadium. "As everyone up here will attest, it takes a lot of belief to get to this stage. However, belief is not something that simply happens. It has to be nurtured a million times over. A note. A pat on the back. A piece of advice. Coaches. These are the things that foster belief in ourselves."
Lynch was drafted in the third round by the Buccaneers in 1993 after then-Head Coach Sam Wyche became convinced that the Stanford product would give up baseball for football. His career later blossomed after Malcolm Glazer bought the franchise and brought in Tony Dungy as the new head coach in 1996. But Lynch represents multiple franchises, after playing four seasons in Denver and then taking over as the general manager in San Francisco. On Sunday night, all those teams were celebrating.
"A sincere thank you to the Glazer Family and everyone at the Buccaneers for making my first 11 years in the NFL so meaningful and helping us to bring a World Championship to Tampa with Super Bowl XXXVII," said Lynch. "To the late, great [Broncos] Owner Pat Bowlen, a true Hall-of-Famer. To the Bowlen family, Mike Shanahan and everybody at the Denver Broncos, thanks for giving me such a great landing spot to play the final four years of my career. And over the last four seasons, I've had the honor to serve as the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers."
View photos from the weekend in Canton, OH for John Lynch's Hall of Fame Enshrinement.