DENVER -- **John Elway and John Lynch share a university alma mater (Stanford) and a high-school coach (Jack Neumeier). And, of course, both are former Broncos standouts and former Stanford quarterbacks, since Lynch worked under center before moving to safety as a junior in 1991.
Their professional paths crossed just three times as players. However, that first meeting was also Lynch's first game as a professional: an Aug. 7, 1993 preseason duel between the Broncos and Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium. Lynch, one of the Bucs' two third-round picks that year, started at safety.
"I knew that Johnny was probably a little bit nervous, this being his first preseason game," Elway recalled to an audience of 1,200 at Lynch's annual Salute to Stars Luncheon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Tuesday.
Now a Fox Sports analyst, the two-time Hall of Fame finalist remains as active in Denver philanthropy as he was during his playing days. This year, his foundation awarded $84,000 in awards to local middle- and high-school students.
Last year, Peyton Manning spoke at the luncheon; this time, Elway and Head Coach Gary Kubiak joined him.
"For him to continue to step up and continue that tells you a lot about Johnny Lynch," Elway said. "I'll tell you this: as hard as his head was on the field, his heart is that soft off the field."
Added Kubiak: "I want everybody to know out there the most important thing about John Lynch is he is a tremendous, tremendous person. The job that he has done is second to none."
What made Lynch's charitable endeavors possible was Lynch's success as a player, which began with that first time when Elway and Lynch were on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage.
"So we're in the first quarter, and Johnny's out there, and our cadence back at that time was 'set hut,' and I was always famous for saying, "Red 98! Red 98! Hut! Hut!'" Elway remembered. "Well, I saw Johnny Lynch out there, and I said, 'Set! Hut! Red 98! Hey Johnny Lynch!' True story.
"And all of a sudden, he looked around, he was looking back, and so after we get done after the game, I said, 'It's funny, because Johnny's in there,' and at that time, they brought him off the edge a couple of times, and I'm sure that he was licking his chops, knowing that he was going to get a chance when he was coming off the corners.
"So I come to the line of scrimmage and I look at John, because back in those days, the free safety is what we read in coverage. It's changed a little bit. But then, the free safety was always our first key in coverage.
"And so I look at Johnny Lynch, and if he kept looking at me, I knew I was OK. I knew he wasn't coming. But it must have been the old head in the hole or something like that, where, if I looked at him and he looked away, I guess he figured if he didn't see me; I didn't see him -- and I knew he was coming!
"I told him that after the game, and obviously he took that to heart."
Check out the best photos of John Lynch, a 2020 finalist for selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"He taught me that right then," Lynch concurred. "He said, 'Hey, Johnny, I've got to tell you one thing: you did really well, but every time you were blitzing, you were looking away from me. It's a little obvious. I'm looking right at you. Just look at me like you normally do.' So I used that throughout my career. I learned it early."
Before that encounter, Elway and Lynch met twice -- once in high school, through their Neumeier connection, and again at Stanford.
Then Elway glanced across the line at Lynch on a steamy August evening.
"All of a sudden he looks over at me," Lynch recalled. "He looked to his right and started smiling at me, (saying), 'Red 98! Johnny Lynch!' I came back to the huddle, and it was funny, because all of the guys (on the Bucs defense) were saying, 'Do you know Elway?'
"To think that much later, I get to know him well, and he was saying, 'Hey, I was trying to loosen you up. I knew you were tight.' And it did. It was fun."
Through lessons like that, Lynch began a decorated career. It made him a legend with the Buccaneers and one of just players selected four at least four Pro Bowls with the Broncos.
And it made possible a foundation that has distributed $839,000 in scholarships to student-athletes since the first Salute the Stars Luncheon in Tampa, Fla. 16 years ago.
"He's a great football [player] and all that, but what a tremendous human being. He and (wife) Linda giving back, I'm just so proud of him," Kubiak said. "I got to be a small part of his career and be around him for a few years, but I'm just so proud of the job he does and continues to do."
KUBIAK ALSO SPOKE about leadership, and offered these words for the honored students on hand:
"It makes me think about what I do each and every day. And part of my job as a coach, obviously, is to get our football team as good as it can possibly be. But as a coach, there's something you worry about all the time -- and you do worry about leadership.
"I've been here now for almost three months, and I'm spending time with the players on the field each and every day right now. And I can tell you that one of my biggest concerns is watching our football team, saying, 'Okay, who are the leaders going to be on this football team?'
"But I can tell you this: you don't appoint leaders, you don't pick them out. It happens. Leaders come forward on their own.
*"I have a saying with our football team. I tell all the guys, 'I want you to be yourself, because everybody else is taken.' And I'll tell all of you young people out there, you've got a great head start on being leaders and being yourself. *
"So you continue that path. You continue that path that you're already on. You've got great supports with your family, the community, your teachers, the coaches. But be yourself. It will be good enough. It already has been. So continue to do that."