Why there's reason to worry about John Lynch's Hall-of-Fame candidacy

John Lynch photo courtesy of USA Today

Former safety John Lynch once seemed a Hall-of-Fame certainty. But now? Not so much. What happened? Good question.

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.

Comments
No. 1-3
brian wolf
brian wolf

What happened is what you already reported about Clark...The voters rush to add their own subjective first ballot players. It wont be like that next year and maybe another two safeties can slip in, but which two ?

Can Polamalu wait while Lynch and Woodson get in ? Or can the voters being daring and add another senior pool member like Miami's Dick Anderson ?

Its obvious that the voters put emphasis on All Decade teams, All Pro, and Pro Bowl Selections and thats fine, it should be that way; but as Tom Brady proves again and again, theres a second season out there, where players arent paid extra, they take pride in wanting to play well and BECOME A CHAMPION. Cream of the Crop. The voters have to put that in consideration first, so safeties like Dick Anderson, Darren Woodson, Rodney Harrison, Steve Atwater get their voices more heard.

Once the 2021 class gets here, it will be 1st ballot city again.

Clark Judge
Clark Judge

Editor

Agree on 2021. But John's candidacy needs to move forward. He just got passed by Steve Atwater and that's a bad sign. That means when Polamalu is eligible, Lynch will be the third safety in line … not good. Think next year we get 2 OL, Edge and two others … but be surprised if Lynch one of them. Voters have pushed him back.

JFLavella
JFLavella

Clark:

I've long suspected that the HOF voters have underrepresented the 1980s in the HOF. Now I have performed the research to confirm. I'd like to share with you as I think many of the voters need to be educated. Here is a list of the HOFers that played per year from 1950 through 2000, along with the number of NFL (and AFL where appropriate) franchises, the "active" roster spots per team, and the percentage of HOFers per total active roster spots.

1950: 34 HOFers / 13 teams / 33 active roster spots / 7.93% of roster spots are HOFers

1951: 35 / 12 / 33 / 8.84% 1952: 40 / 12 / 33 / 10.10% 1953: 41 / 12 / 33 / 10.35% 1954: 41 / 12 / 33 / 10.35% 1955: 43 / 12 / 33 / 10.86% 1956: 43 / 12 / 33 / 10.86% 1957: 46 / 12 / 35 / 10.95% 1958: 53 / 12 / 35 / 12.62% 1959: 49 / 12 / 36 / 11.34% 1960: 53 / 21 / 38 or 35 / 6.85% 1961: 59 / 22 / 36 or 33 / 7.68% 1962: 62 / 22 / 36 or 33 / 8.07% 1963: 63 / 22 / 37 or 35 / 8.06% 1964: 68 / 22 / 40 or 34 / 8.17% 1965: 68 / 22 / 40 or 38 / 7.87% 1966: 67 / 24 / 40 / 6.98% 1967: 71 / 25 / 40 / 7.10% 1968: 71 / 26 / 40 / 6.83% 1969: 75 / 26 / 40 / 7.21% 1970: 73 / 26 / 40 / 7.02% 1971: 78 / 26 / 40 / 7.50% 1972: 73 / 26 / 40 / 7.02% 1973: 70 / 26 / 40 / 6.73% 1974: 69 / 26 / 47 / 5.65% 1975: 65 / 26 / 43 / 5.81% 1976: 65 / 28 / 43 / 5.40% 1977: 64 / 28 / 43 / 5.32% 1978: 60 / 28 / 45 / 4.76% 1979: 58 / 28 / 45 / 4.60% 1980: 51 / 28 / 45 / 4.05% 1981: 56 / 28 / 45 / 4.44% 1982: 54 / 28 / 45 / 3.94% 1983: 55 / 28 / 45 / 4.37% 1984: 52 / 28 / 49 / 3.79% 1985: 52 / 28 / 45 / 4.13% 1986: 48 / 28 / 45 / 3.81% 1987: 48 / 28 / 45 / 3.81% 1988: 47 / 28 / 45 / 3.73% 1989: 48 / 28 / 45 / 3.81% 1990: 51 / 28 / 45 / 4.05% 1991: 50 / 28 / 46 / 3.88% 1992: 49 / 28 / 46 / 3.80% 1993: 51 / 28 / 46 / 3.96% 1994: 48 / 28 / 46 / 3.73% 1995: 51 / 30 / 46 / 3.70% 1996: 53 / 30 / 46 / 3.84% 1997: 55 / 30 / 46 / 3.99% 1998: 55 / 30 / 46 / 3.99% 1999: 53 / 31 / 46 / 3.72% 2000: 48 / 31 / 46 / 3.37%

These numbers contain a number of interesting observations. First, 1958 is vastly over-represented in the HOF with over 12% of the roster spots filled with a HOFer. The percentage of HOFers goes down in the 1960s (more teams), but the absolute number rise to a peak in 1971 (78 HOFers played that year). Yet, look at the mid to late 1980s: 48, 48, 47, 48 HOFers. Were there really 30 more HOF caliber players playing in 1971 than 86-89? Even though there were more teams and roster spots in the late 1980s. Obviously some of this has to do with the fact that the 1980s have had very few senior candidates nominated, but is the Hall of Fame really doing to nominate 30 players from this time period? If is started this year, it would take at least 15 years to catch-up, but this would mean no one could be nominated from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s. No Duke Slater. No Alex Karras. No. Chuck Howley. No Drew Pearson.

In short, the Joe Jacobys, Everson Walls, Henry Ellards, and Karl Mecklenburgs of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s have already been inducted--often at the expense of the 1980s players. The reasons why are likely many, but a lot of it has to do with the restrictive voting in the 1990s. Why did Art Monk take 8 tries? Why did Harry Carson take 7 tries? More importantly, why did the class of Elway, Barry Sanders, and Carl Eller not have two more modern candidates. Young and Marino's class was down three the next year.

As the HOF moves toward an 100th anniversary "celebratory" class, I hope it takes a long look at the 1980s players and does not immediate rush to put in yet more players from earlier eras that are already over represented.

Would love to hear your thoughts?