TAMPA — By the time Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks returned an interception for a touchdown and embraced safety John Lynch to punctuate the 2002 season with a Super Bowl XXXVII victory, Tony Dungy had been fired by a Tampa Bay franchise he helped turn around and was coaching the Indianapolis Colts.
They didn't make that trip to a world championship together, but the trio might be reunited and complete the journey at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Brooks, Lynch and Dungy were among the 25 semifinalists for the Hall of Fame class of 2014 named Wednesday night. It was the first time eligible for Brooks and Dungy; Lynch was a semifinalist last year along with former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp but was not a finalist. Sapp was inducted, joining the late Lee Roy Selmon as the second Bucs player to make the Hall.
"I'm very humbled to make it this far and yet there is a very long journey ahead,'' Brooks, 40, said Wednesday. "I want to keep everything in perspective during this selection process.
San Francisco 49ers owner and Tampa resident Eddie DeBartolo Jr. also is a semifinalist. The five-time Super Bowl-winning owner was a finalist the past two years. He is co-founder along with Brooks of Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa.
The Hall of Fame list will be reduced to 15 finalists Jan. 8 and the class of 2014 will be announced Feb. 1 during the NFL Honors award show.
"Congratulations to coach Dungy, Lynch and Mr. D,'' Brooks said. "I'm thrilled to have a personal relationship with them all beyond the field and have them part of my life as a mentor and friends as we try to change the world through youth education, very similar to the way they affected the game of football.''
In 14 seasons, all played in Tampa Bay, Brooks was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was a first-team All-Pro selection six seasons. The former Florida State star from Pensacola played on four division championships and one Super Bowl winning team. He was named the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2002.
Brooks had 25 career interceptions, six of which were returned for TDs.
Dungy, 58, never trumpeted himself. But in addition to his success with Tampa Bay and the Colts, his contribution to the NFL might be as impressive as his won-loss record. He had one losing season in 13 years as head coach and won six division titles, one conference championship and a Super Bowl in the 2006 season.
Dungy is the first and heretofore only African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl. His success and keen eye for coaching talent spawned a tree of other minority head coaches that include Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell and Leslie Frazier.
Lynch, 42, is one of the most decorated safeties in pro football history and made nine Pro Bowls, second only among safeties to Hall of Famer Ken Houston. He played 15 seasons, 11 with the Bucs and four with the Broncos.