Wednesday, 4 a.m.
There for a while, John Lynch was my favorite Buc.
Oh, Derrick Brooks was the best player. No doubt about that. His internal fires burned hot, and while Brooks didn't beat his chest, he had a pride to what he brought to the table. He was once described as a traffic cop, and he made sure no one sped past. He was a smart player, and a vicious one, and it still makes me laugh that his first position coach with the Bucs thought he was a horrible prospect, which says more about the coach than the player. I liked Brooks, too.
Then there was Warren Sapp, who was the fire to Brooks' ice. He was funny, and he was crass, and he was opinionated. He would spread a white towel at his feet and spit tobacco juice into it, and the
Content beyond this point is for members only.
Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the GarySheltonSports.com blog (its at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!
Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on GarySheltonSports.com.
more stupid he thought the question was, the louder the splatter. Once, when he was mad at Michael Strahan, he reminded Strahan “you lost to Dilfer.” Most of the time, I liked Sapp, too.
Ah, but John was more talkative than Derrick, and less boisterous than Sapp. When you talked to him about the great offenses of the NFL, he would shrug and remind you that the Bucs thought they were pretty good, too. He was the overachiever, the guy who was never supposed to be as great as he turned out to be. And, yeah, I liked John a lot.
Until I met Ronde Barber.
Barber was the most analytical of the Bucs, a guy who would tell you tell you things. He, too, had a lot of pride in what he brought to the party. He played well for Tony Dungy, and he played well for Jon Gruden, and he played well for Raheem Morris, and he even played well for Greg Schiano.
I am this way. After some games, Warrick Dunn was my favorite Buc. Or Joe Jurevicius. Or Mike Alstott. Or Paul Gruber. A guy's favorite player to deal with is always a moving target.
For years, I have been stuck when someone asked me my favorite Bucs of all time. It remains a tie between Lynch and Barber. I talked a lot about adoption with John (he and his wife considered it for a while, and I've adopted two daughters). I talked a lot about life with Ronde.
But here's the question we have come to.
Which one of them makes the Hall of Fame first?
As of now, we are down to that. Lynch keeps making the final list, but so far, he hasn't gotten over the hump. Barber becomes eligible this year for the first time. So which one achieves immortality first? Which player deserves it more?
It shouldn't come to one or the other, of course. Tampa Bay fans know that both men belong. Crunch the numbers, and you won't find a defense that was as good as long as the Bucs were. I've done it, comparing the quarterback rankings and the defensive rankings and the sacks and the opposing quarterback rankings. This Bucs' defense should have won two or three Super Bowls if it didn't have to drag an awful offense along behind.
But it did, and because of that, some voters will dare to ask “So if I'm voting for only one, which one do I vote for?” Or, worse yet, they'll categorize it as two men for one opening.
Do you vote for Lynch who made nine Pro Bowls and who has been a finalist for four straight years? So far, the biggest knock on Lynch seems to be that he played safety, a position that still isn't embraced by the voters. His interception total (26) could have been greater, but it was Lynch's play in the box that was unique to that defense.
Or do you vote for Barber? He made five Pro Bowls at a tougher position (cornerback). Also, he made the biggest play in team history, a 92-yard interception return to seal the Bucs' biggest win ever, the beat-down of the Eagles to send the team to the Super Bowl.
The thing about Barber that his fans will remember were his instincts. The ball simply loved Barber. He ended up with 47 interceptions and 28 sacks, and when critics said he was a system corner, Morris put him into man coverage. He was pretty good at that, too.
Here's my fear with Ronde, however. There is still a misconception that he was too much of a zone corner. My fear is that voters will look at his sack-interception total as a gimmick stat instead of a testament to his versality. My fear is that voters won't think he's a first-ballot guy, and then it will become comfortable for them to vote for others, as it has become for Lynch.
In short, my fear is that voters will categorize both men as belonging in the Hall of Very Good, rather than the Hall of Fame.
Here's a question: If Lynch didn't cover enough ground (some voters have interpreted his low interception total as that, rather than the fact he lived near the line of scrimmage) and if Barber was a zone corner, well, who the hell was covering all those receivers in that era? Lynch and Barber, that's who.
If this Bucs defense had indeed won two or three titles, both men would probably be in (and Simeon Rice along with them). But when a team wins it only once, there gets to be an allotment of how many of its players belong in the Hall.
But check out the Kansas City Chiefs. They won one Super Bowl (and didn't even win their division in getting there). The Hall is jammed with Chiefs: the owner, the coach, the quarterback. And five members of the team's defense. You'd think they never gave up a first down. All they did was beat a Minnesota team that lost to damn near everyone in the Super Bowl.
So, yeah, I don't think it's out of line to think that Brooks, Sapp, Lynch and Barber could all reach Canton. I'm biased. I saw every snap of the Bucs' defense in those days. I saw them stop Barry Sanders and Kurt Warner and Steve Young and Jerry Rice and Randy Moss and Cris Carter and Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb.
Who gets in first? In a perfect world, Lynch has waited longer. I suppose his invitation should come first. But Barber ought to be right behind him.
If they aren't, it isn't going to say anything about either man.
It's going to say things about the voters.