John Lynch: What a “Hall-of-Fame safety” means to me


Former safety John Lynch is more than a Hall-of-Fame finalist for the fifth straight year. He’s among the favorites for the five positions available to modern-era candidates for the Hall’s Class of 2018.

And that’s news in and of itself.

Because in past years safeties weren’t viewed as favorites for anything. In fact, the last modern-era safety to be inducted was in 1998, and the last to play was Kenny Houston … who retired after the 1980 season.

But then the senior committee brought out former all-decade choice Kenny Easley for the Class of 2017, a year when Lynch and another safety, Brian Dawkins, were top-10 modern-era choices — and, suddenly, voters seem to have warmed up to the position.

In fact, either Lynch or Dawkins is liable to be tapped for the Class of 2018. And with Ed Reed eligible for the Class of 2019 and Troy Polamalu up in 2020, the position could start feeding Canton the next few years … much as it is has not the past several decades.

And it’s about time, said Lynch.

“The way I was raised, I was never taught to really trumpet yourself,” said Lynch, now the 49ers’ general manager, on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “but the one thing I have been pretty forward in is trumpeting that position. I think it is underrepresented in the Hall of Fame.I think the position is a significant one … and has been for sometime.

“I think some of the guys that are now being mentioned were at the forefront of why the position is as impactful as it is now. You’re asked to do a little bit of everything, and, as a result, you can have a huge impact on a game.

“I remember having those conversations with (former coach) Tony Dungy when he came down to Tampa and had a vision for how he was going to utilize me and how he felt, in many ways, it could change the way the position is played. I think we take pride in that.

“It is exciting for me to see the representation now among safeties, and I hope that somebody — hopefully, it’s me, but if not, hopefully, one of these other guys — gets in. Because I think the position will get the due that it deserves for the impact it has on games. You can change games at that position, and I think players do each and every year … and have for some time.”

Lynch was one of those safeties. A nine-time Pro Bowl choice and four-time All-Pro, he was a key member of the Tampa Bay defenses that dominated the late 1990s and spurred the Bucs to their first … and only … Super Bowl in 2002. But he was more than that. He was a big hitter on the field and a leader off of it — held in such high regard that he not only is in the Tampa Bay Ring of Honor but also in the Denver Broncos’ Ring of Fame.

Bottom line: John Lynch was one of the most accomplished players of his era, and Hall-of-Fame voters recognize it. He’s been a top-10 finalist the past two years.

But he hasn’t made it … not yet he hasn’t … and some of that involves the position he played. For some reason, the Hall’s board of selectors neglected safeties for years. Until Easley was inducted last summer, only seven pure safeties had been chosen to the Pro Football Hall of Fame … and none since Paul Krause, the league’s all-time interceptions leader, was enshrined in 1998.

But that begs the question: What, exactly, does a Hall-of-Fame safety look like?

“Unless you’re Ronnie Lott, who had 60-plus interceptions (he had 63), that’s difficult,” said Lynch. “But I think it is that impact on the game where, when you talk to people, and you talk to offenses, they say, ‘If you didn’t account for him he was going to ruin our game plan.’ That’s what I think of when I think of the great safeties: People you best account for, or they’re going to ruin a game plan.

“And I think the reason is because you do a little bit of everything. You’re back as the last line of defense. You’re up like a linebacker at times. You’re blitzing and, so, essentially playing a D-lineman. So the versatility that the position calls for … I think the guys that play it best were able to do a little bit of all of that. I think that takes a great deal of ability and talent and aptitude and wherewithall.”

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