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The cases for Steve Atwater, Terrell Davis and John Lynch

Posted Feb 5, 2016

They're Hall of Fame finalists -- Lynch for the third time, Davis for the second and Atwater for the first. All have compelling cases for induction.

Editor's note: The Broncos have three finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame: safeties Steve Atwater and John Lynch and Terrell Davis. Why should each be in the Hall of Fame? This story was published last month after each spoke with media after being named finalists.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- No position is more underrepresented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than safety.

That is, in part, because the position is so difficult to quantify in terms of statistics. Interceptions are infrequent, and fail to measure the true impact of great safeties. There are no statistics for hits, let alone the kind that force opposing offenses to change their tactics.

As a result, there are only seven pure safeties in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Four others earned induction based at least in part on their contributions at other positions, including Rod Woodson, Mel Renfro and Ronnie Lott (cornerbacks) and Yale Lary (punter).

It would seem that this oversight would soon be corrected, given the flood of elite safeties soon to become Hall of Fame-eligible: Brian Dawkins, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed.

John LynchBut Steve Atwater and John Lynch are finalists right now, and both have compelling cases. Lynch is a three-time finalist; Atwater is up for the first time. But both have had their candidacies hindered by an inability to properly value the position.

"I think that's the sentiment that I feel most strongly about, and I've communicated [it] when asked by the Hall of Fame writers, that, hey, I certainly would like if it was me, but I think this is something that needs to change," Lynch explained. "That argument really doesn't hold water with me.

"Maybe at one point that position was one that wasn't of great import in football and on defenses, but I think as anyone has seen the position evolve -- and that's where I feel fairly good about being a part of that position changing, because early in football, they were just kind of a last line of defense."

That changed -- in large part because Atwater and Lynch reshaped what a safety could do, which enhances their cases even further. Dawkins was right there with them around the turn of the century, and in the 2000s, Polamalu and Reed followed in their foosteps.

Lynch had played three seasons under defensive coordinators Floyd Peters and Rusty Tillman before Tony Dungy, a former Steelers defensive back, arrived to become the Bucs' head coach in 1996.

"I'll never forget getting to Tampa and Tony [Dungy] saying, 'Hey, we're going to do some neat things, and really change the way that this position has been played. We're going to blitz you. We're going to play you down in the box. We're also going to play you back. We're going to cover you,' and that's why I think it's such an impactful position. All you have to do is turn on the playoffs, any time over the last 10, 15, 20 years, you tend to see a safety taking over the playoffs, because you can at that position, because you're featured in so many ways.

"I think it takes a great skill. So when people say, 'It's just hard; there aren't that many safeties [in the Hall of Fame],' well, I say that needs to change. And whether that's me or someone else, that should be a priority for Hall voters."

This will be Lynch's third shot as a finalist. Of course, he was a vital part of one of the league's great all-time defenses -- the 1997-2002 Buccaneers, who made "Tampa Two" a household term. But he continued his stellar play after joining the Broncos in 2004, and by the time his career was complete, he was a nine-time Pro Bowler.

No defensive back eligible for the Hall with at least nine Pro Bowl selections is not enshrined -- except for Lynch. Further, his long history of fearsome hits -- just recall his shot on Colts TE Dallas Clark in January 2005 -- and timely interceptions, like in the 1999 NFC Divisional Playoffs, underscore his ability to rise to the occasion like few others at his position.

If Lynch keeps cracking the finalist roster, he should eventually be inducted, but until he does, his absence will be a continued oversight.

Lynch patrolled the secondary with the same ferocity and fear-inducing style as Atwater, although he doesn't have the single big hit that will be replayed for as long as this sport exists.

But Atwater's 1990 shot on Christian Okoye was just the beginning for the eight-time Pro Bowler and member of the All-Decade team for the 1990s, who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and often delivered the big shot when it was needed most.

As with Lynch, Atwater was also a part of elite teams; he started in three Super Bowls and was a major reason why the Broncos were in those games.

"I think more than anything, the film kind of speaks for itself," Atwater said. "Certainly I went out and played hard, just like the rest of the guys -- everyone that's on this [finalist] list. Everybody worked hard and did all that they could do. I respect the process that the committee, that they go through to get to these final 15 players and then on to the final five or six, however many they put in. I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Both Lynch and Atwater changed opponents' game plans. They also changed the way the position is played, establishing the template for safeties that followed.

Their time might not be imminent, but they belong in the Hall of Fame, not only because of their own performances, but to correct a major flaw: the relative lack of safeties among those honored in its corridors.

Terrell Davis

IT'S MUCH EASER TO QUANTIFY the case for a running back; it might be the most easily disseminated by numbers, perhaps even moreso than quarterback.

One number stands out above all for Terrell Davis, who this year will be a finalist for the second time: 101.7.

That's his average rushing yardage per game, including the postseason, when he was at his finest. Among running backs with at least 6,000 yards, that's better than everyone not named Jim Brown.

There's no shortage of running backs in the Hall, and they fit into plenty of different categories: speed backs with short careers (Gale Sayers), short-yardage bruisers (Jerome Bettis) and players who ground out career-long numbers without significant team or individual accolades to go along with them (Curtis Martin, Leroy Kelly).

The existence of myriad paths to being a Hall-worthy running backs makes Davis' exclusion to this point all the more curious. It's not like there's one single mold for a Hall of Fame running back. Yet to this date, the Selection Committee has not seen fit to honor him.

On a per-game basis, he's the second-best all time. And no other running back has a Super Bowl MVP, a league MVP and a 2,000-yard season.

Davis' exclusion is a major oversight that could -- nay, should -- end this year. Of course, it should have ended a long time ago.

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