(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the John Lynch interview, log on to the following audio attachment: Ep 30: Pro Football Hall of Famer John Lynch Joins | The Eye Test for Two (spreaker.com)
We talk a lot on this site about first-ballot Hall of Famers, mostly because there’s been a raft of them lately. Ten of the past 20 inductees – or 50 percent of the last four classes -- have been first-ballot choices.
But then there’s former safety John Lynch, now the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. He took the long road to Canton. A finalist the past eight years, he finally broke through this month as a member of the Hall’s modern-era Class of 2021.
“Receiving that news,” he admitted on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com, “hit me harder than I ever thought it would.”
First, there was surprise. Then disbelief ... emotion ... and, ultimately, jubilation.
And now … well, now there’s the inevitable question: What advice does John Lynch have for others – like, say, former Jacksonville tackle Tony Boselli – waiting for years on Canton to hear their names called?
“I talked directly to Tony,” Lynch said. “Tony’s a very good friend. My brother-in-law, who played in the league, was roommates with Tony at USC. So I got to know Tony early, and, man, what a football player. He was the best. I think it’s hard to say about certain people, if you make this game look easy … (but) I think Tony made it look easy.
“His deal is the career length. But I think some people like (former Denver running back) Terrell Davis maybe have helped that argument by breaking that door down. I think he belongs. And what I’ve told Tony … what I tried to share with him is that, ‘Hey, your time is coming. We know that. Your time is coming. And I really believe that. Keep the faith.’ “
Boselli enters his 16th year of modern-era eligibility in 2022 and has been a Top-10 finalist the past five years. But he can’t cross the finish line, and if this sounds familiar it should. Former Miami guard Bob Kuechenberg was a five-time Top-10 finalist, too, but not in consecutive years. And he was never elected.
Boselli is understandably frustrated, and Lynch knows the feeling. He was a four-time Top-10 finalist before breaking through.
“What I tried to impart (to Boselli),” Lynch said, “is that it’s almost like having a kid. You can’t put it into words what it feels like when it happens. (I told him), ‘It’s going to be so rewarding. Just keep that faith. Keep the perspective that, if it doesn’t happen, you aren’t a lesser man. It’s not like you can go play one more game to convince the voters. Your resume has been written, and your resume is really strong, Tony. And I believe in you, and I believe it’s going to happen.’ “
He may be on to something. The Class of 2022 field is wide open, with no first-ballot certainties. So it’s an opportune time for this year’s Top-10 finishers – Boselli, safety LeRoy Butler (also entering his 16th year of eligibility), defensive lineman Richard Seymour and linebacker Zach Thomas (linebacker Clay Matthews’ eligibility expired this year) – to move forward.
The hitch in Boselli’s resume, as Lynch mentioned, is length of career. He was limited to 91 games in seven seasons, with his career cut short by injuries. However, when Davis and safety Kenny Easley were elected in 2017, the bar for durability was lowered. Davis played 78 games in his career and Easley 89.
Furthermore, 25 percent of all tackles enshrined in Canton played fewer than 100 games.
Lynch played in 224 in his 15-year career and was never an all-decade choice like Boselli. However, he was chosen to nine Pro Bowls and named to four All-Pro teams. He was also a Super Bowl champion -- all of which helped make him a Top-10 finisher in 2016-17.
But then something unexpected happened: His candidacy stalled, with Lynch moving backward the following two years. He failed to make the first cut from 15 to 10 in 2018-19, normally a signal that a candidacy is losing momentum. As we know now, that didn’t happen. He returned to the Top 10 in 2020 and was elected this year.
“Did I get frustrated?” he said. “I think I always had good perspective. I’ve been blessed incredibly. I’ve got a wonderful family. My wife … she’s my best buddy. And, geez, you get a little emotional because you start thinking of all those times you’re in that room (hotel room waiting on voting results), and she’s there with you.
“The thing we always said is: We got so much going for us in life that this would be a cherry on top. But is it going to change you? No. We know who we are. I was always proud of what I did on the field. So I think as a defense mechanism, I told myself, ‘It really doesn’t matter.’ Now that changed quickly when I got the news. Because you get this flow of emotions.”
Lynch admitted the support he received from family, friends and former players helped. One Hall of Famer he singled out was Steelers’ wide receiver Lynn Swann, whom he never met until Swann confronted him one year in the lobby of a Super Bowl hotel after Lynch learned he wasn’t elected.
“And he said, ‘You know what, John?” said Lynch. “ ‘The great thing is: Once you go in, no one’s ever going to remember.’ He goes, “Did you know it took me 14 years (as a finalist to be inducted)?’ And I said, ‘No. No, sir. I did not.’
“And then Harry Carson had a conversation with me somewhere at a Super Bowl, as well. And then all the guys that are in – the Ronnie Lotts, the Marcus Allens, Junior Seau -- God bless him -- when he was alive telling me that I’d be there some day and we’d be there together. Those things encourage you.”
Which is another way of saying Lynch never lost faith in the process, a recommendation he makes to Boselli and others waiting today on Canton.
“I always stayed encouraged that it would happen,” said Lynch. “I didn’t think it’d take eight years, but, hey, I think the coolest text I received (was from) Steve Smith, the receiver for Carolina and one of the great talkers.
“He sent a heartfelt text that said, ‘God’s never late. He always right on time. And you winning this in Tampa just makes me believe that this was kind of God’s plan.’ And I very much felt like that as I was at the (Super Bowl) … It felt like it was right.”