Join Date: Aug 2005
Jim Armstrong on John Lynch - Nothing New, But a Good Read
Lynch longtime power hitter in NFL
By Jim Armstrong
Denver Post Staff Writer
He's pushing 35, an age when most NFL defensive backs are hitting Titleists, not tailbacks. But then, the Broncos' John Lynch isn't like most NFL defensive backs. Never has been, for that matter.
As we speak, Lynch is psyching himself up to smack anything that moves in his 14th preseason opener, scheduled for Friday night in Detroit. Nothing ironic about that except that he never planned to play a down of pro football.
Back in the day, when he had to choose a career path, Lynch was going to be a pitcher for the Florida Marlins. In 1992, he was selected in the second round of baseball's June draft. Like John Elway, the New York Yankees' second-rounder in 1981, Lynch played baseball at Stanford.
He also played quarterback, just as Elway had, but the similarities ended there. Elway knew he was destined to play in the NFL. By his junior year, Lynch was ready to hang up his shoulder pads for good.
"I thought I should have been the starter my junior year, but I wasn't, so I almost quit football," said Lynch, who turns 35 in September. "When I decided to come back, I asked Denny Green just to put me on the field and he came up with safety. Then I got benched four games into the season. That was the year I signed with the Marlins, so I thought that was the way it was going to go."
Lynch, selected one round after the Marlins picked catcher Charles Johnson, was no fringe prospect. He threw 95 mph and was being groomed to become the Marlins' closer. He might have made it, too, if Stanford's new football coach hadn't interceded. Guy by the name of Bill Walsh.
"Apparently, he scoured that tape of the four games I started," Lynch said. "He called me in and said, 'Look, I understand you have a great opportunity with the Marlins, but I think you can play at a Pro Bowl level in the NFL.' I was like, 'Hey, coach, I played four games in college and got benched. What makes you think that?' Then he started showing me tape of Ronnie Lott and comparing me to him. I'm thinking, 'This guy is really selling me some bull trying to get me to come back."'
In the end, football won because, well, football has always won with Lynch.
"My senior year, I really discovered what I loved," he said. "A lot of people didn't think it was a good decision because they figured I had a bright future in baseball. But I knew that's where my heart was. It's funny. Everybody said, 'You can play baseball for 15 years, but you're going to get hurt in football.' Well, here I am."
How has he stuck around so long? Luck, for one thing. Aside from a serious neck injury three years ago, he has remained remarkably healthy for a player who, when it comes to collisions, much prefers instigator to bystander.
Dedication also has figured into the equation. Lynch trained year-round even when NFL teams didn't require their players to do so. More than anything, though, it has been a matter of attitude.
"I've always had a passion for the game," he said. "To me, it's about loving what I'm doing. People ask me, 'How are you still playing?' I guess you just keep going and going. ... That's what I've tried to do."
The natural inclination is to assume Lynch isn't the player he was during his days with Tampa Bay, when he played in five Pro Bowls and earned a Super Bowl championship ring. OK, so how is it that, in his 13th NFL season last year, he racked up a career-high four sacks and forced a career-high four fumbles?
Fact is, while he drinks from a Gatorade bottle, not the Fountain of Youth, Lynch remains one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the business. He still has a presence, still makes plays and still has a flair for the dramatic, witness his hit on Drew Brees in the Broncos' regular-season finale at San Diego last year, a play that proved to be Brees' last in a Chargers uniform.
Know this about Lynch as enters season No. 14: He fully intends to play season No. 15, but only if he's on the field more than the sideline.
"This offseason gave me a good opportunity," he said. "I felt rejuvenated coming here from Tampa, but I wanted to make sure I could still play. After the season, Mike (Shana- han) told me: 'I really want you to think about where you're at. We think you're playing at a high level and we'd like to have you back.' That's all I needed to hear.
"I told him, 'If I ever get to the point where I'm a first- down player and we've got to take me out on nickel, that's not for me.' I've played this game long enough. I've won a championship. I want to play as long as I'm helping the team on a down-in, down-out basis."