BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Whenever anybody talked about the great Bucs defense that became one of the best in NFL history and won Super Bowl XXXVII, the backbone involved three players: Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch.
Sapp, Brooks and Lynch. Sapp and Brooks were both elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on their first ballot.
Lynch, who has been a finalist the past five years, still is waiting.
Voters will gather Saturday morning at Super Bowl LII to elect five modern day players. The hope is that they listen to Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian, who understands the important role that Lynch, a nine-time Pro Bowl player, filled in the Tampa 2 defense.
"I know too much,'' Polian told the Talk of Fame radio network. "This is a dangerous place to be. I know what the safety position means to the (Tony) Dungy defense.
"There are three players in the Dungy defense that are the lynchpins of the whole the defense. First, is the 3-technique. That was Warren Sapp. Second is the will linebacker. That was (Derrick) Brooks. Third is the safety. That's John Lynch. I don't think I need to say anymore. Those are the three that made it one of the great defenses in the history of football for the time they played together."
Lynch still has a few things stacked against him. Start with the Class of 2018, which includes first ballot players such as Ray Lewis and Randy Moss. Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli has a lot of momentum among voters here. After that, it may be wide open. But there is a thought that several of the defensive backs in this class could split votes, with none acquiring enough to make the final five.
Among them is one of Lynch's competitors, Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. A member of the All-Decade team of the 2000's, Dawkins' 37 interceptions are 11 more than Lynch, who had 26.
But Lynch's role was never that of a centerfielder, although he had more than enough ball skills and a penchant for making the biggest plays. They included an interception which ignited a comeback in the Bucs win over Washington in the 1999 NFC Divisional playoff game. He sealed a crazy victory over the Rams in 2000 on Monday Night Football. In fact, 14 of his 26 INTs came in the fourth quarter and 11 of them were in one score games.
Another problem that Lynch continues to face is that only two players spent the majority of their careers at safety of the 96 players who have been enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Today, Pro Bowls may not count for as much. But Lynch is one of only eight safeties to make nine of them. Five are already in the Hall of Fame. The others are Lynch, Dawkins and Ed Reed, whose first year of eligibility is 2019.
This needs to be Lynch's year, not only because he has waited longer than Dawkins, but because he is as deserving as any safety in the Hall of Fame.