John Lynch and Tony Dungy are once again on the doorstep of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On Thursday evening, the 15 finalists for potential inclusion in the Hall of Fame's Class of 2016 were announced on a prime-time NFL Network program. For the third straight year, both Lynch and Dungy made the cut, putting them one step away from football immortality. The Hall of Fame Selection Committee will meet on Saturday, February 6 in Santa Clara, California – site of Super Bowl 50 the following day – to choose up to five new inductees from that group of 15.
The best photos of safety John Lynch.
Lynch and Dungy have strong ties to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both were instrumental in reshaping a stagnant franchise into a championship-caliber powerhouse in the 1990s and early 2000s, an era that culminated in the team's victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. Lynch won a Super Bowl ring with that 2002 team and later played four more Pro Bowl seasons with the Denver Broncos. Dungy guided a Buccaneer team that went 15 years without a winning record to four playoff appearances in five years and later won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
Lynch and Dungy first made the critical cut from the field of 25 semi-finalists to finalist status in 2014, along with former Buccaneer linebacker Derrick Brooks. Brooks was voted into the Hall that year in his first year of eligibility, one year after Warren Sapp – part of the Buccaneers' famous "Big Three" along with Brooks and Lynch – received the same honor. Those two joined 1995 inductee Lee Roy Selmon as the three Hall of Famers who spent all or a significant portion of their careers in Tampa. Now Lynch and Dungy could raise that number to four or even five former Buccaneers to pose for a bronze bust.
While most Hall of Fame classes contain one or two first-ballot shoe-ins, many Canton hopefuls have to wait several years due to the limit of five modern-era inductees per year. This could be the right year for Lynch and Dungy. Of the 15 semi-finalists in 2014, 10 have been inducted over the last two years, leaving only Lynch, Dungy, kicker Morten Anderson, linebacker Kevin Greene and wide receiver Marvin Harrison still awaiting the call. This year's list of first-time-eligible stars includes such notable names as quarterback Brett Favre and wide receiver Terrell Owens.
Lynch was drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round in 1993 and he went on to play 15 NFL seasons, 11 of them in Tampa. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls, including four during his final four seasons with the Denver Broncos, and is best known as one of the most feared hitters in the history of the NFL. In addition to 24 interceptions and 13 sacks, Lynch logged nine seasons of at least 90 tackles. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro selection and a starter on the Buccaneers' 2002 Super Bowl championship team.
Lynch is one of just two 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 (Alan Faneca could join that list this year if he is not selected). Read a more detailed account of Lynch's very strong case for enshrinement.
Dungy was the Buccaneers' head coach from 1996-2001 and he led the Buccaneers to their first playoff appearance in 15 years in 1997. Dungy's Buccaneers made it to the postseason four of his six seasons at the helm – also in 1999, 2000 and 2001 – and advanced to the NFC Championship Game in '99. He compiled a 54-42 record as the Buccaneers' head coach and then spent the next seven seasons as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, leading the Colts to the Super Bowl title in 2006. In all, Dungy compiled a 139-69 record over 13 seasons and is also remembered as the first African-American head coach to lead a team to a Super Bowl championship. He was a member of the NFL's All-Decade team for the 2000s.