ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --It is a testament to the quality of John Lynch's play and the impact he made on the Broncos in just four seasons that he becomes one of just three members of the Ring of Fame to have played only four seasons in orange and blue, joining Frank Tripucka and Charley Johnson.
But the truth is that few players made more of such a short time with the Broncos than Lynch, who was a team captain, locker-room pillar, four-time Pro Bowler and partnered with Champ Bailey to help create one of the best secondaries of the 2000s.
Bailey prevented teams from throwing to one entire side of the field. Lynch made foes think twice about going across the middle. This was still an era of ferocious hits and, by comparison with today, relatively limited enforcement, although Lynch did find himself penalized at times for the shots he delivered.
But the intimidation factor mattered. From 2004 through seven weeks into the 2006 season, Denver's defense was eighth in yardage allowed per play, fifth in yardage allowed per pass play and sixth in yardage allowed per rush. But most importantly, the Broncos allowed just 15.95 points per game -- the second-fewest in the league.
"He comes on in 2004 and plays for four years and really performs well and becomes a team leader," recalled President/CEO Joe Ellis. "He gets us over the hump where we got very close to the Super Bowl in 2005."
Those Broncos had the league's second-best record, but were one game away from the final destination, losing 34-17 to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. That defeat prevented the Broncos from going to at least one Super Bowl in five consecutive decades, a feat that would have been unmatched in NFL annals.
But that defeat couldn't be pinned on Lynch, and it didn't dull what he and the team accomplished in becoming the group that ended New England's 10-game postseason winning streak a week earlier.
"That year -- the one that got away," Lynch recalled. "There wasn't a great team in the league that year and we were as good as anyone and had a shot and kind of blew it with Pittsburgh at our place, but [there were] a lot of fond memories in those four years."
And those memories ensured that when he retired, he identified as a Bronco, not just as a Buccaneer. He spent 11 seasons with Tampa Bay and four the Broncos ... but had just one more Pro Bowl appearance as a Buc than with Denver.
In the end, his burgeoning Hall of Fame case is staked as much on his Broncos years as his time with Tampa Bay. He got to nine Pro Bowl appearances -- which, when he retired, was the second-most for a safety in NFL history -- because his career found the second act in a new city that so few experience.
It was a second act so outstanding that it gives him a second spot in a team's shrine to its elite, joining the place he will assume in the Bucs' Ring of Honor this season.
"Being a Bronco to me had a lot of significance because of all the games where I would look over and I'd see Steve Atwater -- I used to look up at the Ring of Fame and say, 'Wow,'" Lynch said.
"And today when Joe and [Vice President of Public Relations] Patrick [Smyth] told me, 'Hey, you're one of 31,' I really paused to say, 'This great of an organization and there's only 31 names up there?'
"That's really special," Lynch continued, his voice becoming emotional, "and for a guy who in his first couple years in the league was probably one of the last guys to make a roster and hung on and then things started turning around.
"To do it for two teams, to be recognized like that, I wish I could verbalize it better, but it's just really cool and it's a great honor."