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Sooner or later, Bucs will be well-represented in Hall of Fame

One sure thing.

One coin flip.

One long shot.

That, just that, and they change the address of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That, just that, and it becomes "Another Buc Place.''

You probably noticed it Thursday night when the Hall announced this year's finalists. All of a sudden, America is faced with the Invasion of the Pewter Pirates.

Derrick Brooks.

Tony Dungy.

John Lynch.

Together, they might break down the door, and they might tackle every running back in the joint.

It is their time. Career recognition comes in waves, and almost a dozen years have passed since their Super Bowl run, which means the bruises they inflicted have mostly healed. But it wasn't just that year. For a decade, these guys had a run on defense that has not been matched often.

And now? A year after Warren Sapp was voted into the Hall, he seems certain to add an old friend, or three.

Oh, it won't be easy. Even by Hall of Fame standards, this looks like an impressive group of finalists with Michael Strahan and Jerome Bettis and Kevin Greene and Andre Reed and Will Shields and Aeneas Williams and Charles Haley and Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown and Andre Reed and Walter Jones and Eddie DeBartolo, among others. It's going to be hard to pick five out of that bunch. But once a guy has become a finalist — a pretty good honor itself — don't you expect to compete with greatness?

That was never a problem for Brooks, for instance. He competed as hard as any Buc ever has for as long as he could push his body.

Put it this way: If Brooks doesn't get into the Hall, they might as well lock the doors and shut off the lights. He was the finest outside linebacker of his day, a fast, fierce player who roamed from sideline to sideline. He was quieter than most, but he had an inner fire that never cooled.

It's funny because after Lawrence Taylor, a lot of people judged linebackers by their sacks. But Brooks wasn't that kind of linebacker. He was a neutralizer. Think back on all of those great games against the Rams, of Brooks in the open field against Marshall Faulk. Think of him running down Michael Vick from behind.

Yeah, this guy belongs. Think of it like this: There is a reason that Brooks' photo was the only one used when the finalists were released on the Hall of Fame website.

And no, there won't be much opposition for him. He is the only true linebacker out of the finalists. He'll get in.

It will be a bit tougher for Dungy. Coaches and contributors often take a back seat to players.

For all of the great seasons his teams had — the 10 10-win seasons, the 11 playoff trips — the knock on Dungy will be that he won only one Super Bowl, with the 2006 Colts. Tom Flores won more, and he isn't in. Jimmy Johnson won more, and he isn't in. (On the other hand, Bud Grant and Marv Levy never won a Super Bowl, and they're both in.)

You cannot question Dungy's contributions to the sport, however. He changed things in Tampa Bay, and he changed things in Indianapolis. He influenced assistants. He was, without question, one of the finest coaches of his era. And get this: Dungy's winning percentage (62.4) is higher than 12 of the 18 coaches (who won 100 games) in the Hall.

Does that mean he gets in? Eventually, sure. But on his first try? Maybe not. Dungy's election is going to be up to the mood of the voters, who seem as polarized on his election as on anyone's.

It would be a sweet, eternal image, of course.

You can imagine Dungy in the middle of the stage, with Brooks on his left, with Lynch on his right, with his great Colts receiver Harrison behind him. I'm sure that would be the way Dungy would want to go in, surrounded by the players he has influenced.

Then there is Lynch, the hit man who once took out his brother-in-law. Do not forget the heat with which he played the game. A wide receiver never crossed the middle without looking for him, and a running back never hit a gap without finding him.

Still, safety seems to be among the least-respected positions by the voters. It took Paul Krause an eternity to get in, and all he did was intercept more passes than anyone.

Even in the middle of Lynch's career, there was a feeling that a second Super Bowl could do him more good than anyone. He never got that second Super Bowl. I still believe Lynch will get into the Hall; I just fear that his wait will be longer.

Sooner or later, however, the Bucs will be well-represented in this Hall. No, it isn't asking for too much. Consider this: The old Kansas City Chiefs won one Super Bowl (in a year they weren't even division champions), and they have five defensive players in the Hall.

By comparison, the Bucs defense lasted longer, and it was more domi­nant.

Eventually, it will be immortalized.

Either that, or there will be a few more bruises scattered around the room.

Sooner or later, Bucs will be well-represented in Hall of Fame 01/10/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 10:18pm]
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