There are 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015, and two of them are safeties — Brian Dawkins and John Lynch. Both were finalists last year, and both were top-10 finalists … meaning they’re one step away from a gold jacket.
But one almost certainly precedes the other.
Granted, it’s not rare that two players are chosen for the same position — heck, it happened last year with running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis — but it’s not common, either. In fact, other than last year, the last time two players other than quarterback were chosen at one position to a modern-era class was 1983.
So Dawkins or Lynch? Whom do you have?
“That’s tough,” Hall-of-Fame GM Bill Polian said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I know too much. This is a dangerous place to be. I know what the safety position means to the (Tony) Dungy defense.
“There are three players in the Dungy defense that are the lynchpins of the whole the defense. First, is the 3-technique. That was Warren Sapp. Second is the will linebacker. That was (Derrick) Brooks. Third is the safety. That’s John Lynch. I don’t think I need to say anymore. Those are the three that made it one of the great defenses in the history of football for the time they played together.”
Hall-of-Fame voters agree. They made Brooks a first-ballot choice. They made Sapp a first-ballot choice. Dungy was elected in 2016. And Lynch is a five-time finalist who the past two years has been a Top-10 finisher.
Brooks, Sapp and Lynch were part of the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs that were the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to lead the league in total defense, points allowed and interceptions. Better yet, they were part of a unit that dominated the Bucs’ only Super Bowl victory — with a Super Bowl-record five interceptions of league MVP Rich Gannon, three of which were returned for touchdowns, in a 48-21 rout.
“They were, I think, the last defense in modern history to win a Super Bowl,” said Polian, who worked with Dungy in Indianapolis and was there when the Colts won Super Bowl XLI. “They had virtually no offense. It was a ball-control (unit). No high-level quarterback to speak of. I’m not denigrating the guys they played with, but they won with suffocating defense, and (Lynch) was … no pun intended … one of the lynchpins of that defense. So I would tend to go with him.”
Dawkins, of course, was a lynchpin to an Eagles’ defense that went to five conference championship games in eight years, including four straight, as well as Philadelphia’s last Super Bowl. No, he did not win a Lombardi Trophy like Lynch, but he was an all-decade choice where Lynch was not. Both were nine-time Pro Bowlers.
So it’s a difficult decision, and the smart money is on both making it to Canton at some point. But this is not some point. This is now. One of them will be a Hall-of-Famer next month, and the only question is: Which one?
Polian stuck with Lynch.
“Not that Brian wasn’t a good player,” he said. “He really was. But if you had to rank them again, I think I’d probably put John first — only because I know what value that guy is to the defense. If you do not have that player, you do not have a quality defense.”