As is his custom whenever he visits Tampa Bay, John Lynch took a morning run Friday 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. "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 backup safety to a nine-time Pro Bowl player, from playing for the laughingstock of the NFL to a Super Bowl champion, will be commemorated with his introduction into the Bucs' Ring of Honor next fall.
The date of Lynch's induction will be determined after the 2016 NFL schedule is released. Lynch's wife, Linda, and their four children were flown in from San Diego for Friday's announcement. General manager Jason Licht, head coach Dirk Koetter and several former teammates including Ronde Barber attended.
A Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the third time this year, Lynch played 11 seasons for the Bucs before he was released in 2004, then added four Pro Bowl seasons and an AFC Championship Game appearance with the Broncos.
But the beginning of his career was filled with self-doubt. A third-round pick from Stanford in '93, he struggled for much of his first three pro seasons. Having pitched a season in the minor leagues for the Florida Marlins, he questioned his choice when that franchise won a World Series in '97.
"I was a backup safety on one of the world's worst football (teams), one of the worst teams in all of sport, and I'm saying, 'That wasn't very intelligent! I left something that was really good and this really isn't working out,' " Lynch said.
"There were some times where I thought maybe this just isn't for me. There were even times when I started talking to my agent about maybe let's start getting this thing going to go back over to baseball while I'm still young and have an opportunity. And it was about at that time that things started going well. This was always where my heart was. When I left baseball for football, I did it for one reason: I absolutely loved and had a passion for the game."
One of the NFL's fiercest hitters, Lynch's passion saw him pile up 1,277 career tackles, 100 passes defensed, 26 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, 13.0 sacks and eight fumble recoveries.
Lynch is the ninth member of the Bucs' Ring of Honor, which includes several teammates — Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott and Paul Gruber. He said the magnitude of the honor didn't hit him until he drove by Raymond James Stadium on Friday.
"It's an unbelievable honor to get up there and forever be up on that stadium with a lot of my best friends in this world," he said.
Though he finished with the Broncos, he said he recently realized his biggest connection in football is to the Bucs and Tampa Bay fans.
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"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 was 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 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 he is in the process of replacing it.
"Knowing where we came from made it even more sweet," Lynch said of winning the NFL title, adding 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 something special to behold."