When S John Lynch came out for the pre-game introductions before the Buffalo game, he shared with the crowd a little bit of the team inspiration he had provided the night before
Some leaders are born, some develop.
Some get wrenched out of socket.
To be sure, John Lynch was a developing leader for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the events of November 25 and 26, 2000. He was such a key component of the team's outstanding defense that, when he went down the Sunday before in Chicago with a dislocated left shoulder, there was more than one thought of a season slipping away.
The timing was awful. After losing at Chicago, the Bucs felt they would need to win at least four if not all of their final five games, and they were already without the services of FB Mike Alstott, who also went down in Chicago. One couldn't help but think back to 1998, when Lynch missed one midseason game due to a stiff neck and the Tennessee Titans exploited his absence, running right down the Bucs throat for 236 ground yards. The Titans won that game, 31-22, sending the Bucs into a three-game tailspin that eventually killed their playoff hopes despite a strong finish.
Now it's 2000, and Lynch might miss one game, two, a month. First up for the Bucs is the Buffalo Bills, another team fighting for its playoff life. The Bills' November 26 trip to Raymond James Stadium was shaping up as a smack-in-the-mouth type of game, and the Bucs were going to be without their hardest hitter.
On the evening of November 25, Lynch attended the Bucs' meetings in the team hotel, restless with the thought that he would be of no use the following afternoon. He wasn't sure if his arm would remain in its socket. He also wasn't sure that his team was in the right frame of mind.
So Lynch asked to speak to the team at the conclusion of the team's meetings, before Head Coach Tony Dungy would offer his own final words. The exact content of Lynch's speech that night remain a private matter between he and his teammates, but several onlookers have called it the most inspirational pregame speech they had ever heard. The following morning, Buccaneer players were still energized by Lynch's words.
But the best was yet to come. With the decision literally lingering up until game time, it was time for Lynch to make some noise again, this time without ever opening his mouth. When the Buccaneers' defensive starters were announced just before the game, Lynch ran out in his normal spot. The Raymond James Stadium crowd blew a gasket.
Wearing a restrictive brace designed to keep his arm from moving in the direction most likely to cause another subluxation, Lynch played nearly every snap against Buffalo and pitched in with eight tackles as the Buccaneers cruised to a 31-17 win. The emotional win started a four-game winning streak that secured Tampa Bay's spot in the playoffs.
And, with one of the gutsiest performances in team history, Lynch secured a spot at the heart of Dungy's team. Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp might be as indispensable or more so than Lynch on the Bucs' defense, but the mental and physical toughness that the 6-2, 220-pound safety provides resonates throughout the unit.
Lynch is headed into his ninth NFL season, during which he will turn 30 in September, was recently re-signed to a six-year contract extension and is still in his NFL prime. His role at the center of the Bucs' defense, and his current standing at the top of the NFC's strong safety charts came about gradually.
After being drafted in the third round in 1993 and immediately giving up a promising pro baseball career, Lynch started just ten games in his first three seasons, as Sam Wyche's crew tried him in a variety of roles, including a fourth linebacker of sorts. It wasn't until Dungy arrived in 1996 and designated starter Todd Scott went down after two games that fall that Lynch grabbed the starting strong safety spot for good. He hasn't looked back since, missing only that Tennessee start in the five seasons to follow and racking up triple-digit tackles in each of those campaigns.
He has also evolved from a pure hitter into a complete safety package who still just happens to be one of the league's most devastating tacklers. In 2000, Lynch earned his third Pro Bowl berth, and second straight start, with 110 tackles, three interceptions, one sack and seven passes defensed. It was his second straight marvelous season, and it is well chronicled in this highlight video (56K Real) provided by NFL Films. (Use these links for 100K and 300K.)
This spring, Lynch appears determined to take on an even greater leadership role, as he will be training primarily in Tampa, according to Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Asanovich. While Lynch has always been extremely diligent about his own offseason training, Asanovich believes his presence in Tampa will help motivate the younger players on a team that is considered a strong Super Bowl contender.
Indeed, Lynch proved last November that his mere presence can be motivating. The Bucs expect that to remain true for years to come.