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Lynch (1 Viewer)


Still a Hitter, Lynch Has Been a Hit in Denver

By Vicki Michaelis, USA TODAY

(Jan. 18) - Jeane Lynch would have loved this. Denver hosts Pittsburgh in Sunday's AFC Championship Game, and "one of the great Broncos fans of all time," as Denver safety John Lynch describes his grandmother, who died in 2003, could have had a prime view of the Broncos' biggest game in seven years. And of her grandson's vindication.

Two years ago, Tampa Bay dismissed Lynch, who had been with the Buccaneers 11 seasons, as too expensive and perhaps too damaged. Last Saturday, Lynch was doing the damage, rattling the three-peat hopes right out of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

"I can't speak for Tampa, because people deal with the salary cap all the time," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan says. "But I'm sure glad we've got John Lynch on our football team."

Lynch, 34, earned a seventh Pro Bowl trip this season. Led in large part by Lynch, Denver's high-pressure defensive attack flustered New England into turnovers, which the Broncos converted into scores accounting for all but three of their points in the 27-13 victory.

"You try not to harbor any bitterness, but when you've played in a place for, I guess it was 11 years in Tampa, and you've got new people coming in there telling you that you're not good enough to play there any more, that motivates you a little bit," Lynch says. "It did with me. I think now I look back and everything happens for a reason. It's really re-energized me."

The Buccaneers drafted Lynch in 1993 out of Stanford. He joined a team that hadn't been to the postseason in more than a decade and hadn't won a playoff game since 1979.

He matured as a player through some lean years and by 1997, his first full season as a starter, Tampa Bay was back in the playoffs. At the end of the 2002 season, the Buccaneers won their only Super Bowl title, beating the Oakland Raiders in Lynch's hometown of San Diego.

The next season, Lynch was bothered by recurring shoulder stingers, which sent numbing pains through his arms. He had neck surgery to remove bone spurs after the season.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, brought in a new general manager, Bruce Allen, who had worked with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden in Oakland. After contract negotiations stalled, Allen released Lynch, saying at the time he did so for salary cap reasons

Lynch was scheduled to make $4.2 million in the 2004 season with Tampa Bay. He signed a three-year, $9 million contract with Denver a week after being released.

"While I say there were some hurt feelings on my part, I also understood, because it's your neck," says Lynch, who hasn't had problems with stingers since the surgery. "And particularly the style of football I play, I could understand how there would be some questions as to can he come back."

Lynch plays like a dog backed in a corner, ready to pounce at the first movement. He hits opponents with ferocity that is nowhere evident in his genial personality off the field.

"I'm amazed that he can maintain the on-the-field John, especially after all these years," says Pete Egoscue, a longtime personal trainer and friend of Lynch's. "On the field he asks no quarter and gives none. Off the field, he's very gentle, sort of quiet."

Picture perfect

Among Lynch's pre-game preparations is time spent looking at pictures of his three children and reading handwritten notes from his wife, Linda. Linda says the family was "shocked" when the Buccaneers released her husband but adds, "When you look at this business, we were just so lucky to be there as long as we were."

People in Tampa held a send-off roast and celebration when Lynch left. Among the approximately 700 attendees were former teammates, retired Gen. Tommy Franks, a Tampa-area resident who ran the war in Iraq in its early stages; and the Tampa mayor, who gave Lynch a key to the city.

Lynch, who moved to free safety from strong safety when he got to Denver, ranked second on the Buccaneers' games-played list, third in all-time tackles and fourth in all-time interceptions. But he still had goals left to attain, namely, at least one more Super Bowl ring.

He figured Denver, winner of back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the late '90s, gave him that chance.

He says he was somewhat disappointed last season, his first with the Broncos, to find that those titles had sowed cynicism among some fans and that Denver's new stadium, Invesco Field at Mile High, didn't reverberate with the same groundswell of support brought to the old Mile High Stadium.

"I was disappointed, because my only experience playing in the old Mile High was as a visiting player and feeling the place shake," Lynch says. "And my grandma was one of the great Broncos fans of all time, so I knew the passion that was involved in Denver Bronco football.

"This year it's been fun because we've kind of won over everyone again."

The stands at Invesco Field were an undulating sea of orange last weekend, as the Broncos dethroned the Patriots on the field below. The fans were raucous, full-throated and out of their seats almost the entire game.

"I think we just changed the course of Invesco Field being a wine-and-cheese crowd," Lynch said afterward.

It was a crowd that instead seemed ready to lift a hearty toast to vindication.

Jeane Lynch would have loved it.

01/18/2006 07:22


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