His selection Tuesday as one of 15 modern-era finalists marks the fourth time he has earned the nod. And while the nine-time Pro Bowler still seeks induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he said the honor of being named a finalist has not gotten old.
“Never,” Lynch told DenverBroncos.com on Wednesday. “You know, the only thing I need to do each and every year is listen to the names that make that final list. Every year, I’ve sat back as the names have been read. Last night I’m driving my kids around, so I started getting a lot of texts.
“And when you wake up this morning and you look at that list and the names that are there with you, I would say that, and then the names that didn’t make that cut. Guys like Steve Atwater, who I respect so much. Darren Woodson, Karl Mecklenburg. You realize that absolutely you never take that for granted, and I’ll never make that mistake.”
Lynch certainly belongs in the conversation with other Hall of Fame players, as he is one of just two players with at least nine Pro Bowl selections and two or more first-team All-Pro selections to not be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Fellow finalist Brian Dawkins is the other.
“I don’t spend my life thinking about it,” Lynch said, “but that weekend you kind of know it’s there. There’s a hard deadline, and what you try to do — my advice to other people if this is their first time — try to enjoy the process. It’s something pretty special. The Hall of Fame’s done a great job. They celebrate the finalists. They have a nice luncheon now and make you feel good about being there. Enjoy it, as much as you can.”
If Lynch has a weakness compared to other finalists, it’s that he generally lets others speak for his production rather than stump for himself. Even when pressed, his answer about his candidacy relies on the opinion of coaches and players that he’s faced over the course of his career.
“I think when they say, ‘When you went on that field, you had to account for No. 47, or he would wreck your game plan. He would wreck what you’re trying to do.’ — that makes me real proud,” Lynch said. “That’s what I tried to do. You try to occupy a place in their mind such that they’re not only focused on what they have to do, but they’re focused on stopping you. I played with great teammates: the Derrick Brooks, the Warren Sapps, the Ronde Barbers, the Champ Baileys, the Al Wilsons of the world. But the fact that people said those types of things, that made me real proud.”
With Lynch and Dawkins in the field, however, Lynch believes the committee may be trending toward newfound respect for the centerfielder of the defensive backfield.
"One of the things that speaks greatly to my case, and to Brian’s, is we were kind of at the forefront,” Lynch said. “I’m a couple years ahead of Brian, [but] we were at the forefront of that changing. That’s something I’m really proud of. When you look at safeties, and I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to look at it in terms of numbers, is you do a little bit of everything. You’re the last line of defense. You’re up playing linebacker. You’re up blitzing. So you’re asked to do a lot, and I think that’s part of what makes the position so impactful.”
If Lynch makes the cut in early February, he will add a third honor over the course of the year. He earned nods to the Broncos’ Ring of Fame and the Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor for his illustrious career that primarily spanned his time with those two teams.
“I have my job, which keeps me very focused,” Lynch said, “and my even bigger job of raising kids and raising a family. So it’s not like I sit there and think about this all day long, but in the midst of that, in the matter of two weeks, I went into a Ring of Honor and a Ring of Fame, it was kind of like, ‘Gosh, pinch me. Is this really real?’”
Adding a Hall of Fame induction to that already impressive list would be “pretty sweet, to say the least,” Lynch said.
Davis, in his third year as a finalist, remains the only player to be named NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP and rush for 2,000 yards. Though the two never played together, going into the Hall together would be quite special for Lynch.
“That would be huge,” Lynch said. “I think a lot of people know that not only were we both Broncos … but we were both San Diego kids. We share that common bond. I’ve got the ultimate respect [for him]. I’ve been very vocal about what I think about his candidacy. He was the best player in football for a number for years. I think those people belong. That would make me incredibly proud. I consider him a friend. I’ve been there with him — with the joy of being a finalist and the letdown of not making it. I really am praying that it happens for him, and there would be nothing better than to go in with him.”
In a few short weeks, Lynch will endure the stressful process for the fourth consecutive year. And while he’s honored regardless of the outcome, there’s no question he hopes this year is the one that finally ends the drought.
"I’ve been here before, so yeah, I have [thought about it],” Lynch said. “It will be sweet, there’s no doubt about it. I was raised to be humble, but people say, when they put it bluntly, ‘Do you think you belong?’
“And the answer is yes, I do. Wholeheartedly, I do. There’s no doubt in my mind. I hope it happens.”