Ahead of the vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2021, we caught up with Ira Kaufman, who is the Hall's representative for the Tampa Bay area. Kaufman will present Broncos Ring of Famer John Lynch's case for Canton when the committee meets to determine this year's class, and he spoke with DenverBroncos.com about why Lynch's stellar career in Tampa and Denver is deserving of a gold jacket.
Aric DiLalla: What will go into your Hall of Fame presentation for John Lynch?
Ira Kaufman: "I'm making two presentations, one for Lynch and one for Ronde Barber. This is my eighth year in a row making a pitch for John Lynch. His numbers aren't going to change, the video doesn't change, his career doesn't change, so you try to bring something new into it every year. My main theme for John Lynch at this stage of his candidacy is I don't think we're discussing whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame any longer. I think that question's been answered. If you make the final 15 eight years in a row — you're not a guy that goes in and out, one year you're in thenthree years go back and then you're back in, those are the guys that you're not really sure if they deserve a bust in Canton. They deserve discussion. Well, eight years in a row, that is evidence that John Lynch deserves a bust. So the only question remaining is when? At a certain point, Lynch will drop out and go in the Senior category, and then he could be forgotten about. There's a sense of urgency here about John Lynch. He's got some incredible accomplishments. There's only one safety in NFL history that's made more Pro Bowls than John Lynch. He's in two Rings of Honor, and I believe he was the leader of the secondary of the best defense of its time over a seven- or eight-year period. That is an eternity by NFL standards. It's not a one-off 2000 Ravens or '85 Bears. This is seven or eight years of a top-10 scoring defense, and Lynch was the ringmaster of the secondary. Everybody acknowledges that.
"I'm going to go a little bit shorter this year with my presentation, because I've got some people lined up, some powerful voices that are in that room, and that includes Jeff Legwold, who will talk about Lynch's years in Denver. Legwold was a little compromised last year. Atwater was on the ballot. Atwater's a Bronco, pure and simple. This year's he's gone. He squeezed past Lynch last year. Heck of a player, Steve Atwater. So I think Legwold feels emboldened to talk about Lynch's years in Denver. They were some very, very good years in Denver. I think he was a mentor to Champ Bailey. His second year in Denver I believe he had four forced fumbles and four sacks. I mean, how many safeties have four sacks in a season back then? Not many. He showed off different parts of his game in a different scheme. I'm feeling this could be John Lynch's time."
AD: Why has it been so difficult for safeties to make it into the Hall historically?
IK: "Well until about five years ago, that was definitely true. And it was a big, big point of discussion in the room. Where are the safeties? Where are they? They were considered a lesser position than cornerback, harder to gauge than cornerback. As a matter of fact, they were probably the least-represented position in the Hall except for specialists. That's really changed. It's really changed because in the last few years, [there's] Brian Dawkins, Atwater, Ed Reed, this year Charles Woodson — if you want to consider him a safety — and you've got Lynch and of course LeRoy Butler as one of the 15 [finalists]. I think it's changing. Kenny Easley got in as a senior candidate. We've tried to address it. It's been a problem. Now's the glory time for the safety position.
"Let's face it: John Lynch is probably the last of his breed. That breed was intimidation, when you could do it. It's a different game now. I think John Lynch is versatile and smart enough to make an adjustment in [the] NFL [in] 2020 if he had to. But back then, he was an intimidator across the middle, as was Atwater and some other guys. That's the way the game was played, and John Lynch excelled in that form."
AD: Have you seen momentum for his case grow compared to eight years ago? Do you think he's closer to getting that knock?
IK: "I think he's back on the way up. In the beginning, the first few [times], he made the final 10. That's the first cut — from 15 to 10 — and they announce that. And then, there were two years in a row where he didn't make the first cut and was one of the first five eliminated. That was a bad sign for John Lynch. But a year ago in Miami, lo and behold, even with Atwater on the ballot and in a year where Atwater got the nod, Lynch made the final 10. His arrow's kind of going back up. I think it's starting to weigh on the voters that eight years in a row, the guy's a Hall of Famer. Let's put him in — he deserves to be in — and move on with the next candidates. He's taking up one of 15 spots every year. Fresh blood is dying to get in that room. As long as we're all in agreement that John Lynch belongs in Canton, let's do the right thing."
AD: Are there any plays or games that stand out to you that emblemize what John Lynch was all about?
IK: "There's one in particular. Of course you've got the Super Bowl, when during that whole week when the Bucs were preparing for the Raiders in San Diego and there was a big deal made that Gruden knew a lot of Oakland's signals from an offensive standpoint. [Raiders QB Rich] Gannon was the league MVP that year, and Gruden knew Gannon backwards and forwards. But Lynch was the guy, when you see the videos of the Bucs practicing that week, he was the guy that was in charge of the entire defense in terms of familiarity with the Raiders. He was the linchpin, so to speak. The game that jumps out at me was a playoff game against Washington, I believe, and the Bucs were losing [13-0], and a Lynch pick in the third quarter absolutely turned that game around. I think it was the [second] playoff win for the Bucs since like 1979, and it was a game against Washington, and the Bucs ended up winning that game. Everyone after the game pointed to Lynch's pick as the turning point in changing the momentum. The Bucs were dead on their feet, they had nothing going on for them. It was a home game, and they were being outplayed. And then Lynch turned that game around with his interception. He's got 26 picks, but 14 of them came in the fourth quarter. When a big play had to be made, John Lynch made them."
AD: How do you think his four years in Denver aided his Hall of Fame candidacy?
IK: "I think it showed another dimension of John Lynch. Everybody that talks about the Tampa 2 [defense] and players' roles in it — Ronde Barber's up this year and I'm sure it's going to come up in the room that he was a system cornerback, whatever that means. The Tampa 2 is still around today. Why do they play the Tampa 2? Because it's so darn successful. But it's only successful if you've got the right pieces. Everyone from Bill Polian on down says you've got to have the three technique — [Warren] Sapp. You've got to have the weakside linebacker — [Derrick] Brooks. And you've got to have the strong safety. Those are the critical elements. It should be the Tampa 3. Lynch was a big part of that, and then when he went to Denver, I think under [Mike] Shanahan he got a little more freedom — freedom to blitz. He had a different role. He wasn't in the box as much as he was in Tampa. He showcased his versatility. I believe he tied for the team lead in sacks that year with four, and Denver had a heck of a season that year in '05. He was a ring leader. I think the fact that he got four more Pro Bowls and only played four years in Denver and got into the Ring of Fame, that tells you all you need to know about his years with the Broncos."
AD: After years of waiting, how much do you think it would mean to him to be elected this year?
IK: "I think it would mean the world to him. Every year, my saddest day is when John Lynch tells me he got a phone call from David Baker, president of the Hall, instead of a knock on the door. If you're in, you get a knock on the door. If you're one of the 10 of the 15 that get turned away at the doorstep, you get a phone call from David Baker. When I talk to John that evening and he tells me he got a phone call from David Baker, my heart sinks. It's terrible. There's so much emotion involved. I've been around this with Brooks, Sapp, Tony Dungy, the presentation for Ed Sabol, the head of NFL Films back in 2011. I've seen what it means for these people. They call football the ultimate team game, and this is the ultimate individual honor. You don't really think about yourself and your career until it's time to think about the doors of Canton. I just think it would be a final touchstone for John Lynch. He's done so many great things, and he's doing a great job as GM of the Niners, helping them get to the Super Bowl a year ago. Everybody in Tampa — the former teammates, the former coaches, Buc nation — and people in Denver, I think they would absolutely rejoice if John Lynch becomes part of the Class of 2021."
AD: Couldn't agree more. Hard to find a better guy than John, I think.
IK: "I think that's one more point. I don't emphasize it, because the Hall of Fame rules tell you it's everything the guy does between the white lines. All right, that's understood. But in terms of a representative of the Hall of Fame, a representative of the National Football League — they always talk about the shield — there isn't anybody better to represent the shield and everything it stands for than John Lynch. From him first day as a pro until his retirement and now as an executive. He represents everything that's good about the National Football League. I don't know if voters will take that into account, but it's certainly a credit to the man himself."