BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Perhaps no one in sports had a better seven months than John Lynch did in late 2016 and early 2017.
About nine years after he retired from the NFL as a player, Lynch had already transitioned from the field to the booth as an analyst for Fox Sports — no small feat — but a whirlwind winter changed everything.
In October 2016, he was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame, in November of that year he was inducted into the Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor, and then in January he was handed a six-year contract as general manager of the 49ers. Months later he proved his staying power with a draft haul that left veteran executives in the dust.
No matter the field or the foe, Lynch has continually proven there is no role beyond his reach. But one honor in particular has eluded him.
Perhaps this year it won’t.
Saturday night in Minneapolis, Lynch may finally become a Pro Football Hall of Famer. For the fifth year, he (along with fellow former Broncos safety Brian Dawkins) is among the 15 modern-era finalists and may become only the ninth true safety enshrined in Canton, Ohio. The Hall of Fame’s selection committee will convene Saturday morning in Minneapolis and announce the newest inductees during “NFL Honors,” the league’s annual awards show.
“I think you take not only what kind of player he is but what kind of person he is, what kind of leader he has been for two franchises. I think if you sum that up, if I were a Hall of Fame voter, I would probably take that into consideration,” Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said before Lynch’s Ring of Fame induction. “From our standpoint here at the Broncos, we would like to see him get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I think that’s kind of the next step for him. It should be, anyway.”
Lynch moved closer to Canton in 2017 by making it to the final group of 10, but he failed to earn the requisite 80 percent of the votes to be elected.
The Hall has generally been unkind to safeties and Broncos, and Lynch again faces competition from Dawkins, twice a finalist now. Though both safeties spent a relatively short time in Denver, their tenures were unforgettable and have had a lasting impact on the franchise.
After spending the first 11 years of his career with Tampa Bay (1993-2003), and helping the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII, Lynch played his final four seasons (2004-07) in Denver, where he was selected to a Pro Bowl each season and solidified his reputation as one of the most menacing safeties in the NFL.
“I remember the feeling leaving Tampa, thinking we can’t ever re-create this,” Lynch said in 2016. “We had such a special thing in Tampa, and fortunately I was able to win one Super Bowl in Tampa, but that was my aspiration and I know a lot of my teammates’ — Champ (Bailey) in particular — when we came to Denver, that was our mind-set: Let’s go win one. Unfortunately for him, and for everyone, we weren’t able to do that. But we came very close, and you try to leave your career without regrets.
“It really is a tremendous honor, and I think even more so because it was only four years here in Denver.”
In his NFL career, Lynch had 26 interceptions, 13 sacks and 1,277 tackles, 16 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and 100 pass breakups. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and received all-pro honors four times.
Dawkins spent the bulk of his career with Philadelphia (1996-2008) before playing three seasons with Denver. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls overall, received six all-pro honors (five on the first team) and mentored many of the Broncos’ current leaders, including cornerback Chris Harris and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
“Weapon X,” as Dawkins was known when he played, is a football operations executive with the Eagles, who meet the Patriots in Super Bowl LII on Sunday. In the span of 24 hours, Dawkins could earn the two most coveted awards in pro football.
Saturday night, he and Lynch will seek the first and highest honor: election to the Hall of Fame.