The best photos of safety John Lynch.
Last Sunday night, John Lynch bought the last open seat on a plane headed from San Diego to Denver the following morning. This last-minute trip was the result of another man's decision, one the Denver Broncos – and indeed NFL fans everywhere – had been waiting for weeks to hear."
FEATURE: LYNCH'S CASE FOR CANTON[
](http://www.buccaneers.com/longform/lynchpin/index.html) Lynch's two-hour flight on Monday morning took him from his hometown to his last home in the NFL. The Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre was also the final stop in Peyton Manning's illustrious 17-year career, a fact confirmed when Manning announced his retirement in front of a packed auditorium and a nationwide television audience on Monday afternoon.
Lynch and Manning each played four seasons for the Broncos, though none of them overlapping. They did share 10 playing seasons in the NFL and along the way they developed a good friendship, as well as a respectful rivalry. Over the weekend, Manning texted Lynch to tip him off about his retirement decision; he asked Lynch to keep the news to himself, though it had predictably leaked by Sunday night.
That's when Lynch decided he wanted to be there when Manning made his announcement. He was glad that Manning had indeed chosen to retire after his second Super Bowl victory. The Broncos' win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50, coupled with the Colts' championship at the end of the 2006 season made Manning the first starting quarterback ever to win Super Bowls with two different teams.
"I was hopeful that this was the decision he was going to make," said Lynch. "It was something that he had to come to terms with, and just like anything he's going to look long and hard and have all his options in order. I knew he would put together a game plan on how to go about this, and he's thorough in everything that he does. I think that's what he was doing, just examining his heart. I think his timing was perfect. I think it's time. He'll go on and have plenty of options – he already does – to do a ton of different things. Right now, I imagine he'll just take some times to get away from it all."
Lynch got to the Broncos' headquarters just 10 minutes before the press conference was set to begin, and he was glad he didn't miss any of it.
"That was pretty special," said the nine-time Pro Bowler who played 11 years for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before heading to Denver in 2004. "First of all, I just thought he was tremendous up there. That was really something to watch, if you appreciate football. As a fan, I thought it was a tremendous thing to listen to. It was well done by everybody involved and his words were incredibly revealing."
Indeed, Manning was alternately emotional, funny, gracious and, as Lynch said, revealing. He was also very thorough in listing the people he wanted to thank and the things he would miss from his playing days. That's when Lynch's name came up.
"I'm going to miss a steak dinner at St. Elmo's in Indianapolis after a win," said Manning. "My battles with players named Lynch, Lewis, Thomas, Bruschi, Fletcher, Dawkins, Seau, Urlacher, Polamalu, Harrison, Woodson and Reed. And with coaches like Fisher, Ryan, Belichick, Kiffin, Phillips, Rivera, LeBeau, Crennel, Capers, Lewis, the late Jim Johnson, and so many more. I always felt like I was playing against that middle linebacker or that safety or that defensive coach."
Lynch, who admits to never having much team success against Manning-led squads, called those words "kind and humbling."
"It was very humbling to hear him talk about that," he said. "He was talking about the things he was going to miss and the players he was going to miss going up against, the safeties, the linebackers, and my name was in there. The feelings are mutual. That's a guy I never really had a great deal of success against. Obviously, there's the one game that everybody remembers where it was like, 'Wow, what happened?' In the end you said, 'Peyton happened.'"
Most Buccaneer fans will have no trouble recalling the game Lynch referenced, a Monday Night Football affair at Raymond James Stadium in which Manning rallied the Colts from 21 points down with less than five minutes to play to a 38-35 overtime victory. That was actually the first time that Lynch and Manning had shared the field.
Lynch entered the league with the Buccaneers in 1993, Manning with the Colts in 1998. They played against each other three times in the regular season and once in the playoffs, but they really got to know each other – and each other's families – at a long string of shared Pro Bowls. Lynch was still living in Denver when Manning arrived in 2012. Now a game analyst for NFL on Fox, Lynch has also watched Manning's exploits from the TV booth.
"He had one of the greatest careers anyone has seen and it was really cool to be a part of [the press conference]," said Lynch. "I'd put him right up there, in terms of the guys I played against."
Lynch's career began around the time that some of the most legendary quarterbacks in NFL history were hitting the backstretch in their careers. In fact, in his rookie season, Lynch faced Dan Marino in a joint Bucs-Dolphins preseason scrimmage, ran into Jim Kelly and John Elway in preseason games and then squared off against Joe Montana (then with the Chiefs) in the 1993 regular-season opener. Manning, who retires with the NFL's all-time career records for passing yards and touchdown passes, belongs in that group, according to Lynch.
"Right when I came in there was one generation of the greats, like John Elway," he said. "I just got a taste of those guys, but Peyton's right at the top of the list in terms of the guys I played against. And you can't argue with the numbers. I'm so happy for him, too, because I think he put to rest some of the postseason [criticism]. It was always, 'He's the greatest regular-season quarterback.' He put a lot of that to rest with his second Super Bowl win, and going out on top."