Why there's reason to worry about John Lynch's Hall-of-Fame candidacy
I’m beginning to worry about John Lynch.
No, I’m not talking about what he does as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. I’m talking about what he’s not doing as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame.
And that’s moving forward.
For the second straight year, Lynch last weekend failed to reach the Final 10 in Hall-of-Fame voting. And, yeah, I know: It happens. But it’s not supposed to happen to someone this close to crossing the threshold to Canton two years ago.
That’s when John Lynch was a Top-10 finalist for the second straight year, leading many then to believe he was all but a cinch to graduate to Canton in 2018. Except he didn’t. Instead, of moving forward, his candidacy went in the other direction. And now it’s stuck there.
Which is why I’m beginning to worry.
Look, I know what we’ve been told – namely, that 89 percent of two-time finalists for the Hall eventually are inducted. But tell that to Joe Jacoby. He was a three-time finalist and a Top-10 finisher in 2016.
Nevertheless, he failed to make it to the Top 10 in his 20th – and last – year of eligibility and was banished to the senior pool, there to reside with dozens of other all-decade choices that have been ignored, forgotten or both.
So multiple finalists can … and do … fail to take the last step.
Then there’s this: Steve Atwater. Like Lynch, he was a safety. Unlike Lynch, he hadn’t been in the room multiple times. In fact, before last weekend he’d been there only once – in 2016. And not only didn’t he make the first cut to 10; he disappeared altogether, never to reappear as a finalist until this year.
OK, no big deal. Except, as it turns out, it was. Atwater last weekend moved forward where Lynch did not, passing Lynch to finish as one of five Top-10 choices not elected to the Class of 2019.
And that tells me something: It tells me his candidacy has the momentum that Lynch’s does not.
Don’t ask me why. The presentations for John Lynch are compelling, informative and persuasive. And they should be sufficient to clinch the deal for someone who was a Super Bowl champion, who was named to the Rings of Honor of two franchises (Tampa Bay and Denver), who was chosen to as many Pro Bowls (9) as Hall-of-Famers Ed Reed and Brian Dawkins and who was as important to Tampa Bay’s 2002 Super Bowl defense as Hall-of-Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.
They should be sufficient. But they’re not.
Which leads me to another issue: How do presenters fast-forward Lynch’s candidacy when his case has been sliced, diced and spliced the past six years? I mean, what's left to say that hasn't already been said? Selectors have heard it all before. And now, it seems, they’re moving on. Because while they keep making Lynch a finalist, they don’t support his candidacy once he’s inside the room.
In fact, Lynch is one of only two Hall-of-Fame candidates to be a finalist six consecutive years and fail to be elected. The other: Former Miami offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg, who died last month.
Granted, there’s always next year … except there’s not. Not really. Look at the players eligible for the Class of 2020, and you’ll find Troy Polamalu front and center. No, he’s not a first-ballot cinch like Reed this year. But he is the most noteworthy name in the class, and, like Reed, played the same position as Lynch.
Not that long ago, that was a problem. The Hall inducted safeties as often as trains run on time. But that changed in 2017 when Kenny Easley was named as a senior inductee. That was a breakthrough. A year later, Dawkins made it as a modern-era candidate in only his second year of eligibility. That was a breakthrough, too. Prior to Dawkins, the last modern-era safety to play was Kenny Houston … and he retired after the 1980 season.
Then, last weekend, two safeties – Reed and Johnny Robinson – were elected in the same class. Another breakthrough. So safety no longer is a blind spot for voters.
But that hasn’t helped John Lynch, and that’s a concern. Where others are moving forward, he is not. Plus, it’s not just Polamalu that is next year’s competition at safety. It’s Atwater, too.
Someone must find a way to wake up voters to John Lynch, otherwise he one day may be known as the Cliff Harris or Ed Meador of this milennium – the best safety not to reach Canton.
And that would be a shame.