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Hard-hitting Lynch knocks on Hall of Fame's door

 
John Lynch went to nine Pro Bowls and was a two-time All Pro.
John Lynch went to nine Pro Bowls and was a two-time All Pro.
Published Jan. 31, 2014

NEW YORK — John Lynch left his mark — sometimes literally — on the NFL and many of its players.

The hard-hitting safety was the defensive enforcer for the Bucs and Broncos during his 15-year career. But one play best illustrates Lynch's indiscriminate assault on ballcarriers.

Playing at Chicago in 1997 four days before Thanksgiving, Bears tight end John Allred caught a pass in the right flat, turned upfield and was knocked unconscious from a blow by Lynch.

Allred, by the way, is Lynch's brother-in-law. Lynch is married to Allred's sister, Linda, who was watching the game at Soldier Field with members of both families.

"I said, 'John, dude, you just knocked out your brother-in-law,' " linebacker Derrick Brooks said. " 'Look at him. He's out cold!' He said, 'He is? He'll be all right.' "

Lynch paid a price for the hit, and not just at home. "There was some great banter between teammates," Lynch said. "They said, 'You're not getting anything for Christmas.'

"Brad Culpepper said, 'Not only did he knock him out, he's sleeping with his sister.' That cracked everyone up. Believe me, I paid for it when I went home."

Arguably the hardest-hitting safety since Ronnie Lott (1981-94), Lynch, 42, is a finalist for the first time for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will be voted on Saturday.

The punishment Lynch doled out during games wasn't always limited to the other team.

"It was fun playing with him, it was also painful at times," Brooks said. "Oh my God, I got hit by him so many times. There was a lot of friendly fire. But by the same token, if he wasn't hitting you, something was wrong."

Lynch wasn't one-dimensional. In the Tampa 2 defensive scheme, he was asked to cover a lot of ground shadowing receivers.

"I think the nature of that position is the guy who can do a lot of different things and do them well," Lynch said. "(Coach) Tony (Dungy) from the start said we're going to ask a lot of you, but we think you have the qualities that are necessary to be one of the best and to be the best. I think I always embrace that challenge. At times you were covering receivers, at times you were a linebacker and at times you were a defensive lineman on run blitzes or pass-rush situations."

But intimidation and hard hits were Lynch's game.

"Your job is to let people know they're coming into your area and they do so at their own peril," he said. "You weren't trying to hurt someone, but you were certainly trying to make them uncomfortable."

The case for Lynch

Lynch went to nine Pro Bowls and was a two-time All-Pro. He, Warren Sapp and Brooks were keys to leading the Bucs to their only Super Bowl appearance and championship in club history.

From 1999-2002, the Bucs reached the playoffs. When Lynch was released in 2004 after failing a physical, he made four straight Pro Bowls with Denver, then retired.

The case against Lynch

This is his first year as a finalist, and only eight safeties have been enshrined. Sapp was elected last year on his first ballot. Brooks likely will be inducted this year. Dungy, a former Bucs and Colts coach, also has some momentum as a first-time finalist. It's rare to get multiple players from one team in the same class.

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Lynch's 26 interceptions in 15 seasons won't wow voters. He's also up against Cardinals safety Aeneas Williams, who is a finalist for the third consecutive year and was in the top 10 last year.

"If Derrick is voted in, that gives the Bucs one more this year after Sapp last year," said Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain, a member of the selection committee. "I'd be surprised if they will get multiple inductions in one year. That's unusual.

"I think Lynch and Dungy are worthy and just have to be patient. Lynch was the personification of what every coach wants in a hard-hitting safety."

What's likely to happen

Lynch, now a Fox NFL analyst, is a long shot in his first try as a finalist and he knows it. But he has a solid base of voters that will finally be able to hear his credentials.

"It's such an honor to be here," Lynch said. "I'm not going to hang my head either way. But I think it's due time for safeties to be recognized because they impact the game."