Sentimental Lynch says best moments came as a Buccaneer
As is his custom whenever he visits Tampa Bay, John Lynch takes a morning run on the patch of grass sandwiched between International Plaza and Runway 36 Right at Tampa International Airport, which used to be the site of the original One Buc Place.
"It's just a plot of land, it's just a bunch of taxi cabs parking where we used to park," Lynch said Friday. "I told them today, 'Get out of my spot. That's our spot.' But whenever I go there, so many memories come back. In '93 when the Hall of Fame golf course was across the street. But mainly, it's the journey we had there."
Lynch's journey, from a third string safety to a nine-time Pro Bowl player, from playing for the laughingstock of the NFL to a Super Bowl champion, will end with his inducution in the Bucs' Ring of Honor next fall.
A third round draft pick from Stanford in '93, Lynch had played a summer in the minor leagues as a pitcher for the Florida Marlins and doubted his career choice when that franchise won the World Series and he was mired on the bench in his third NFL season. He even called his agent to discuss the chances of returning to baseball.
Lynch, 44, said he remembers his early Bucs years filled with self-doubt and he and his wife, Linda, hoping his career lasted three years. "Maybe I am just a special-teams guy," Lynch said he wondered.
But the arrival of head coach Tony Dungy and the Tampa 2 turned his fortunes around and Lynch became one of the most dominant players in the game and a Hall of Fame finalist.
Released by the Bucs in 2004, Lynch finished his career with four Pro Bowl appearances with the Denver Broncos, making it to an AFC Championship game. He said only recently has he realized that his biggest connection in football is to the Bucs and Tampa Bay fans.
"If you would've asked me at the end of my career, you're so in the moment, that's where I ended up, I kind of thought, 'Wow, I'm going to always see myself as a Bronco,' because that's where I spent my last years," Lynch said. "But I think as I get further away, this is where I spent a large part of my career. And I think the struggle, where we went as a team and individually, I think those are my fondest memories. I had great times in Denver. This is where I grew up as a football player, where we grew up as a team and as a family. Most of my football memories are here.'
Lynch is the ninth player in the Bucs Ring of Honor and will join several of his teammates, including Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Paul Gruber and Mike Alstott.
He called the induction a "special opportunity," and said it wasn't until he drove by Raymond James Stadium Friday that the magnitude of that honor struck him.
"This place can be so special when you put that product out there," Lynch said.
Lynch said the highlight of his career was winning Super Bowl XXXVII against the Oakland Raiders in his hometown of San Diego. He said he his Super Bowl ring was stolen three months ago but is in the process of being replaced.
"Knowing where we came from made it even more sweet," Lynch said of winning the NFL title, but added he felt they should've won several more.
"There was such a special feeling, and I don't know if it's ever existed anywhere else, between the community and that team," Lynch said. "Because it felt like we grew up together and there was a sense of pride. It was somethig special to behold."
The Bucs will announce later this spring which game Lynch will be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor.