KUSA — If Brian Dawkins didn't share the final Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot, there would be little doubt John Lynch would be elected into the class of 2018.
Had Lynch already been inducted in any of the four previous years he was among the 15 modern-era finalists, it may well be Dawkins’ turn when the 48-person Hall of Fame voting committee elects its new class on Saturday in the Twin Cities area.
Lynch and Dawkins are both safeties who finished their careers with the Denver Broncos. The question is, will they split the safety vote as was likely the case in 2017?
“By all accounts, a lot of people said Dawkins and I canceled each other out last year,’’ Lynch said in a phone interview with 9NEWS this week. “I feel good about it this year. Actually, I never know how to feel but it seems like it’s going in the right direction and hopefully this is the year.’’
Dawkins should have been more encouraged than disappointed with the results last year. He was eligible for the first time and yet he not only made to the top 15 finalist group, he made it inside the top 10. That’s remarkably strong support for a first-year candidate.
In fact, four of the five players who finished 6 through 10 in HOF voting last year – Lynch, Dawkins, Ty Law and Tony Boselli – had Broncos or Colorado ties.
Lynch played four seasons in Denver after 11 with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Dawkins played his final three seasons in Denver after 13 with the Philadelphia Eagles. Law played his final seven games, and recorded his 53rd and final interception with the Broncos in 2009.
Boselli grew up in Boulder and was a starting left tackle for Sam Pagano’s state championship team at Fairview High School in 1987.
Only Kevin Mawae, a 16-year NFL center and two-term players’ union president, was among the second five who didn’t once call the Denver-area home.
Dawkins made two Pro Bowls while playing box safety for the Broncos, but it was his first 13 seasons with the Eagles-- a period that included four, first-team All Pro selections -- where he made his mark as one of the NFL’s best safeties of a generation.
“I was not going to pay attention to it last year,’’ Dawkins said of the Hall of Fame voting process Sunday after arriving in the Twin Cities with the NFC-champion Eagles, whom he serves as a football operations executive. “I got a little bit more involved than I wanted to. That turned out to be something I really didn’t like.
“So, this year, I’m not really going to talk much about it. All the details about my time with the Broncos, I’ll have those conversations after this weekend. It’s about these guys and the Super Bowl. The reason I’m here is because the Eagles are here. It’s about these guys and our Super Bowl run. If something happens, we’ll talk about it after it’s done.’’
Hall of Fame voters can elect no more than five modern-era candidates each year. Because there are 22 positions on a football field, the committee rarely chooses two at one position.
There are exceptions, the most recent occurring last year when two running backs, Terrell Davis and LaDainian Tomlinson, were selected.
Davis or kicker Morten Andersen may have made it because Lynch and Dawkins cancelled out the safety vote.
If Dawkins is permitted through Canton’s hallowed halls, he will walk primarily as an Eagle. He had a terrific first season with the Broncos in 2009, helping Josh McDaniels to a 6-0 start and finishing with 116 tackles, 11 pass deflections, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries.
His leadership was invaluable during his final season of 2011, organizing workouts with local sports performance coach Loren Landow during the lockout and registering 3.0 sacks off the blitz in an injury plagued season.
He still lives in the Denver area with his wife and two young children, while two other kids are in college.
“Absolutely, love it in Denver,’’ he said.
Lynch also is primarily a Buc although his career has a deeper shade of orange of blue. He didn’t just play four years in Denver, he made four Pro Bowls, a feat that earned him a place into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
His John Lynch Foundation has awarded $1.1 million in college scholarships, including $118,000 worth of awards in the Denver-area last year even though he had already been hired as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.
“That time with the Bucs was tremendous,’’ Lynch said. “It was 11 years and it was formative years but I would say I went through a rough year with my neck. But became confident that No.1, I was going to be OK. The motivation was there, and Mike (Shanahan) really sold me more than anything because he believed in me. He believed I still had something left, and I felt the same way. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get quite over the hump but we came close.
“The football was great and the one thing I’ve always said about the Broncos as an organization is they give you an opportunity every year to win. A lot of teams pay lip service to it but I think that’s what Pat Bowlen stands for more than anything is he’s going to give you an opportunity and chance to win each year. That’s why I went there. We fell short but you know, we made a run.
“But for me it became more than football. I became part of the community. Our kids were raised there and we spent 11 years as a family there. Our foundation there was supported more than I ever thought it would be. In Tampa the folks supported it so well and we surpassed what we did there in terms of the amount of money we raised. It’s a very special place in the Lynch household and in my heart.’’
With the Broncos, Lynch became much more active as an in-the-box safety, to the point he almost became a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
During the 2005 season in which the Broncos went 13-3 during the regular season and beat the two-time defending champion New England Patriots in a second-round playoff game before losing at home in the AFC Championship Game to Pittsburgh, Lynch had 4.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and two interceptions in what was the best overall season of his career.
Lynch might have been a half-step slower during his time with the Broncos but he also may have been a half-second quicker to the ball because of the anticipation that comes with experience.
“I think that’s fair,’’ Lynch said. “Those were years 12 through 15 -- that’s fair. I didn’t believe that at the time but in retrospect, yes.
“What was fun for me we tried to copy what we were doing in Tampa. That’s what was part of the allure, (defensive coordinator) Larry Coyer and Mike sold me on the fact, hey we watched you guys in Tampa and you’re what we’re trying to emulate. But we kind of scrapped that. Instead we got real creative and we started blitzing the heck out of people. That one year I thought I was a D-lineman. For the first time in my career I was asked to rush the passer. That was fun for me.’’
With Ed Reed appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot next year, and Troy Polamalu in 2020, the hope is the voting committee clears some safety room this year by electing Lynch, who has been waiting the longest, or Dawkins, who is extremely popular among the big-market NFC East cities, or both.
With the Eagles, Dawkins says he does a little bit of everything with emphasis on consulting. With the 49ers, Lynch’s ultimate task as general manager is to evaluate talent. It’s a skill he developed as a player.
“I think one of the great pleasures of playing in Denver was playing next to one of the greatest players I ever played with in Champ Bailey,’’ Lynch said. “I put him at the top of the list with the Warren Sapps and Derrick Brooks in terms of rare talents and players who were arguably the best that ever did it at their position.’’
Bailey is eligible for election next year, where he will have a good chance of becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“If he’s not, there’s something wrong,’’ Lynch said.
After a long spell of Hall of Fame snubs, the Broncos could get on an impressive streak: Terrell Davis in 2017, Lynch or Dawkins in 2018, Bowlen as a leading contributor candidate and Bailey in 2019.