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Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Corey Lynch a hero in the secondary

During Bengals training camp in 2009, safety Corey Lynch chats with Cynthia Brennan-Ritchie, whom he helped save after a wreck.

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During Bengals training camp in 2009, safety Corey Lynch chats with Cynthia Brennan-Ritchie, whom he helped save after a wreck.

At this point, we do not know if he can save a season. Given his age, it is too soon to ask him to come to the rescue. As he prepares for only his second NFL start, it seems a bit much to ask him to play the hero.

But say this for Corey Lynch:

He has done it before.

Lynch just got here, of course, and there is much we do not know about him or the career that awaits him. We know his last name defines good safety play around here. We know he had such a knack for the ball while at Appalachian State that his teammates called him Superman. We know he is the third starting free safety of the year for the Bucs.

But can he measure up to the circumstances? Can he make a clutch play in a defining moment? Can he make an impact?

Yeah, he can.

Just ask Cynthia Brennan-Ritchie, a 52-year-old woman from Fairfield, Ohio, who can still smile at her grandchildren because of Lynch, 25. After all, when a man has climbed through the broken glass of an upside-down van to save a life — or, as she has said, restore one — how intimidating can a spiraling football be?

"My angel," Brennan-Ritchie called Lynch on Saturday night. "I was dead, and he saved my life."

This is why we watch sports, because every now and then, a man transcends the playing field. Every now and then, he does something extraordinary, and the rest of us are better off for it.

For Lynch, the morning of June 21, 2009, was supposed to be about a homecoming. It was Father's Day, and the organized team activities of the Bengals — his team at the time — had just ended.

So Lynch and his wife, Cissie, climbed into their car and began an 877-mile journey to his hometown of Fort Myers.

Traffic was heavy, but Lynch was in no hurry. He was still in the slow lane 45 minutes or so into the trip, still north of Lexington, Ky., when he noticed the red van in the fast lane 75 yards or so in front of him. Then he noticed the car that swerved in front of the van and cut it off.

The van lurched to the left, almost striking the concrete barricade. Then it over-corrected, its back wheels spinning in the gravel, and the vehicle jerked back to the right and across the interstate.

There were other vehicles on the road, including semis, but the van shot at a right angle then launched off the road and down a steep embankment the sheriff would later measure at 280 feet.

The van tumbled down the hill, flipping six to eight times, then landed on its roof with the wheels pointing toward the sky.

When Lynch was in high school, he was riding with his father, Brian, a firefighter, when the two saw a motorcycle accident. He remembers his father braking quickly then sprinting toward the accident before the motorcycle stopped skidding.

This time, it was his turn. He stopped immediately and told Cissie to call 911. Then he sprinted toward the accident, his sandals slipping across the smooth rocks of the embankment. For a minute, he was certain he was going to tumble.

"My husband says he was there before the van stopped rolling," Brennan-Ritchie said.

For Lynch, however, the trip down the embankment was not without a feeling of dread. Looking at the twisted metal of the van, he could easily imagine the worst.

"I was preparing myself to see a bunch of dead people, which I've never seen before," he said. "At that point, it was like, 'What am I going to do when I see, basically, carnage?' I was certain I was going to see death, and it was like, 'Man, I don't want to see this today.' "

Two other men scurried down the hill to the van. By the time the three arrived, Carlas Hensley, then 6, emerged from the wreckage with blood on his face.

"He pops up like it's nothing," Lynch said. "Like he hadn't just flipped several times. He just had this look of shock and horror on his face. Then we saw his older sister (Desiree Armstrong, then 12), and she had blood on her, too.

"They were both kind of awed. We tried to get them out of there, because we figured everyone else was dead. I thought, 'The kids are alive. That's great.' We were trying to get them to go up the hill, where other people were waiting. But the little girl kept screaming, 'My grandma's in there! My grandma's in there!' "

Bob Ritchie, Brennan-Ritchie's husband and the driver of the van, was closest to the highway. He was dazed, and when the rescuers looked into the window, his legs were wrapped around the steering column. But once Ritchie's legs were freed, Lynch was amazed at his health.

"He looked like he had just been walking down the street," Lynch said. "He didn't have a scratch on him. He was very dazed, though."

On the other side of the van, Lynch saw a more somber picture. A woman was hanging upside down, still in her seat belt, her arms spread across the roof. Her body had collapsed onto her head and shoulders so severely that, at first, Lynch could not see her head.

" 'Oh, no,' " he remembers thinking. " 'She's gone. She's dead. There is no way she could make it.' At that point, I didn't know what to do. What do you do with a dead person in a wrecked car?"

A couple of seconds later, however, Lynch saw the fingers on her right hand twitch. Then he heard her trying to speak. Then trying to breathe.

"Her body was crushing her whole windpipe," Lynch said.

So he climbed through the broken glass and into the van, trying to find a way to free her. He tried to recline the seat, searching over his head for the proper button. Finally, he found it, and Brennan-Ritchie tumbled onto the floor.

"I was gone," Brennan-Ritchie said. "I wasn't breathing. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here. Every morning, I wake up and I say thank you. He had to break the seat, but he also knew I was hurt. He was tender enough, and smart enough, to know how to take care of me. And my granddaughter told me he never left me for one second.

"I don't know that anyone else would have done that. He tells me others would have, but I don't know."

When Brennan-Ritchie was freed, she was in extreme pain, and the three rescuers kept telling her not to move. She kept asking about her grandchildren, and when she was told they were fine, she suspected she was not being told the truth.

"I thought they were being kind," she said. "I thought my family was dead."

Finally, the rescue helicopters arrived, and Lynch helped the paramedics get up the hill with her stretcher. Brennan-Ritchie had a broken neck and a broken back, but doctors were able to fuse her vertebrae. She had to wear a neck brace for three months, but then she returned to work.

"I was just blessed that God put me in a situation to help," Lynch said. "If it was me down there, I would want someone to help.

"I don't want to pat myself on the back. But this made me realize that I don't want to be the guy who puts his car in park and watches, or the guy who drives past. The guy who cut the van off? He never stopped."

Lynch pauses, as if to pick just the right words.

"It's the brevity of life, you know? The Bible says that life is but a vapor. We drive 3,000-pound cars around every day. It kind of wakes you up and makes you think about life longer and harder. Life is but a vapor."

Does any of this mean that Lynch can be the answer? Of course not. It does mean the guy has courage, character and the ability to stay calm under pressure.

In other words, it gives him a chance. Perhaps it should make the rest of us grateful that he has it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Corey Lynch a hero in the secondary 12/11/10 [Last modified: Sunday, December 12, 2010 12:26am]

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