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Steve Atwater, John Lynch near potential Hall of Fame election

When now-Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy arrived in Tampa in 1996 to lead the Buccaneers, his defensive backs coach Herm Edwards had a plan for a young John Lynch.

Edwards, who would later go on to his own head-coaching career, handed Lynch a VHS tape in a minicamp meeting ahead of the safety's fourth season.

"Take this home," Lynch remembered Edwards telling him. "This is a guy that we feel like you could be."

The player on that presumably less-than-high-definition VHS tape? Steve Atwater. 

More than two decades later, both Lynch and Atwater are finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2020. They've been in this position before. Lynch is a seven-time finalist, and Atwater joined him as a finalist in 2016 and 2019.

On Saturday, the Hall of Fame's selection committee will choose as many as five men from the 15 Modern-Era finalists to join the Class of 2020. A separate blue-ribbon panel already elected 15 people to the Centennial Slate. The 20-person class will be enshrined later this year in Canton, Ohio.

Both men have the credentials to be enshrined. Atwater is a two-time first-team All-Pro, an eight-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade team.

There are 24 players in the history of the game with at least eight Pro Bowl selections and at least three Super Bowl appearances. Twenty of those men are already Hall of Fame enshrines. Atwater joins Troy Polamalu, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as the only men who are not. 

Polamalu is in his first year of eligibility, Manning is not yet eligible and Brady remains an active player.

"I just remembered the fact that he was ahead of his time because of his size," John Elway said on Jan. 22. "He was a linebacker's size playing safety and [was] physical, back when the game of football was about being physical and it was important to be physical. That's what Steve brought: that intimidation factor — with him on one side and Dennis Smith on the other. He's a guy that definitely should be in the Hall of Fame, because he changed that position with what he brought."

Lynch, meanwhile, is a two-time first-team All-Pro and earned four of his nine Pro Bowl selections in his four years in Denver. Only Hall of Famer Ken Houston has more Pro Bowls among safeties.

Both Lynch and Atwater are in the Broncos' Ring of Fame, though their playing careers in Denver never overlapped.

Lynch, though, knew who Atwater was.

"I remember watching Steve," Lynch said last week. "Everyone knew who Steve Atwater was. His presence — he's just such a big dude."

And he'll be rooting for him this weekend as decisions are made in Miami.

"One of the coolest things is he's one of my favorite people in the world," Lynch said. "You meet the guy, [and there's] not many people as quality as Steve Atwater. I'm pulling for him. He's pulling for me. [There's] a lot of love there."

Atwater and Lynch will face competition this weekend at the safety position, as both Polamalu and LeRoy Butler will vie for spots in this year's class. Seven safeties have been elected over the last four classes, and it wouldn't be surprising to see at least one more go into the hall this year.

Lynch will have plenty else to think about, as his San Francisco 49ers will face the Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV. Lynch, in his third season as general manager, could have quite the weekend.

"The Hall of Fame, you go down there and enjoy the process," Lynch said. "There's not a damn thing that you can do about it. That's the one thing — I do have some experience. This is the seventh time being there as a finalist, and you really just enjoy it. Be humbled that you're being mentioned with guys like [finalists] Steve Atwater, Tony Boselli and all these great players — Isaac Bruce, LeRoy Butler. The list goes on, and I think that's what you have to do, is just enjoy and feel blessed that you have that opportunity but also know there's nothing you can do, so go enjoy it. Now the other thing, you get this far, you want to find a way to finish the deal, and that's where our focus is."

Before Sunday arrives, though, both Atwater and Lynch hope the weekend begins with a knock at the door from David Baker and election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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