DENVER — There are two players going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame who finished their career with highly successful four-year stints as Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning and John Lynch.
There are also two Broncos going into the Hall of Fame who played exclusively at the safety position. Steve Atwater and again, John Lynch, the common denominator to the three Broncos represented Aug. 7-8 in Canton, Ohio.
Manning played 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, sat out a year with a neck injury, was released to free agency, signed with Denver and quarterbacked his final four years with the Broncos. He is a member of both team’s Ring of Fame/Honors.
Lynch played 11 seasons with the Tampa Bay Bucs, struggled through his final season there with a neck injury, was released to free agency, signed with Denver and played four years with the Broncos. He is a member of both team’s Ring of Fame/Honors.
“I’m really grateful to Linda, my wife, because there were so many different dynamics,’’ Lynch said Thursday as he explained during his Hall of Fame press conference via Zoom why he chose the Broncos as his second team. “At that point we had just started a family and you just want things perfect with your family. That’s how I was embarking on that search with that in mind. There came a point where there were numerous teams involved and she just gave me permission, she said, ‘Look, John, we’re going to be happy wherever we are as long as we are together. Make this decision for the right reasons in terms of football."
“And then in Denver it was just a tremendous fit. I had a connection with Mike (Shanahan, the head coach), I had met him at the Pro Bowl one year. I had great admiration for the way the Broncos were run as an organization. Those things travel. There was a reputation they were going to give you a chance every year. That’s all you can ask for in this league. I liked where the team was at when I got there and those were four great years.’’
The Lynch-led Broncos had a big-time chance in 2005 when they finished 13-3 in the regular season, beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in a second-round playoff game and hosted the AFC Championship Game, only to fall to Big Ben and the Steelers, 34-17 at Invesco Field at Mile High.
“Champ (Bailey) and I and Al Wilson, we talk about it often that we kind of let one get away right there,’’ Lynch said. “My only regret is we never won a championship but I gave it everything I had and Denver became, and will always be, a special place in my heart and my family’s as well.”
Lynch the player had two roles as a safety during his 15 seasons from 1993-2007. The first he was as a two-deep safety who played one half of the back end. In his final year or two with the Broncos, Lynch was considered a “box safety,’’ a player who was essentially used as a fourth linebacker.
Any difference between the safety position from his playing days to those he watches now on film as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers?
“That’s one thing that’s extremely gratifying is to see there has been a movement, and a well-needed one, that speaks to the value of that position,’’ Lynch said. “For years safeties were facing an uphill battle getting int to the Hall. A number of safeties have gone in. Brian Dawkins, Troy Polamalu, Steve Atwater. The list is long here in recent years and I think that’s appropriate because I think that position really has an impact on football. The reason being is you’re asked to do a little bit of everything.
“Having said that everything in football is cyclical. When I first came in, there were a lot of safeties that looked like me – 220 pounds, bigger thumpers who dealt with big running backs. I think clearly now, and guy we have now in San Francisco in Jimmie Ward is great illustration of a guy who has cornerback skills who can get down and cover tight ends but who can also get up in the slot and cover receivers. Justin Simmons in Denver is another example. A guy who’s got enough size to mix it up and play physically but also can hold up in coverage.
“I did a lot of that throughout my career but I wasn’t asked to cover receivers in the slot. We played a lot of two-deep and I had my half of the field but in terms of man-to-man, I think we’re in a cycle right now with all the passing in the game that position will always require a skill set where you have to do a multitude of things. I think it’s why I loved the position. … There will always be cycles but I think versatility will always be a hallmark of that position.”
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