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Barber: 49ers GM John Lynch waits for Hall of Fame vote

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MIAMI - ‘Well, it could make for a pretty cool weekend,” John Lynch said Wednesday, and he laughed along with the rest of us.

The 49ers general manager was barricaded by reporters, recorders and cameras at the time, during one of the big Super Bowl LIV media events. He was in the process of addressing a wide range of subjects related to the moves his team has made to get here. But this question was more personal: What would it mean to Lynch to be announced as a Pro Football Hall of Fame member on Saturday, the day before the Niners played the Kansas City Chiefs for the championship of football?

“Fortunately, this year my mind’s occupied and I’ve got a lot of other duties, and so I haven’t thought about it a whole lot,” he said. “But I have thought it could be a very special weekend.”

Pretty, pretty special. I don’t know how many successful Hall of Fame candidates have been actively employed by a team playing in that year’s Super Bowl, but the club has to be pretty small.

With the vote just a day or two away, let’s tackle the question. Is John Lynch a Hall of Famer?

Certainly, a lot of the guys who played with and against Lynch will vouch for him.

“John Lynch only knows one speed,” said Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, a former running back who faced the rugged safety in both college (Bieniemy at Colorado, Lynch at Stanford) and in the NFL. “He played fast and he played hard, and that’s all you can ask. So as far as him being considered for the Hall of Fame? Why not? You know what I mean? He deserves that.”

San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan, who has worked so closely with his GM to develop the team, has only secondhand knowledge of Lynch’s body of work as a player.

“Just watching as a fan, he would fly around and hit,” Shanahan said. “I was always saying that as a fan. Then when I got to Tampa Bay (in 2004, the year Lynch left the Buccaneers), where I started my NFL career at, and all the tape I could watch there for two years — John wasn’t there at all, but the tape I got to watch on him, and how good that defense was, and how it would not have been that good if he wasn’t there, to me it was solidified right there in Tampa.”

Shanahan is biased, of course. And so is Warren Sapp.

When the Buccaneers drafted Sapp in 1995, Lynch had been there two years, playing for bad teams.

Tampa selected linebacker Derrick Brooks in ’95, too. Cornerback Ronde Barber arrived in 1997, defensive end Simeon Rice in 2001. They formed the backbone of an all-time great defense, one that carried Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title after the 2002 season. Sapp and Brooks are already enshrined in Canton.

“They gotta give me my triplets,” Sapp said. “There’s Michael (Irvin), Emmitt (Smith) and Troy (Aikman of the 1990s Cowboys). And everybody else got their triplets. They got Jack Lambert, they got Joe Greene, they got Mel Blount (from the 1970s Steelers). I need mine.”

The retired defensive tackle continued: “We were three-tiered. If you got by me and Brooks, you gonna regret it. Because we was gonna be nice to you. Lynch was just gonna knock you out. It didn’t even matter. He knocked his brother-in-law out.”

Ah, yes. That would be John Allred, the brother of Lynch’s wife, Linda. Allred was a Bears tight end, and Lynch did indeed knock him cold with a crushing hit in 1997. That typified the safety’s style of play, which could politely be described as violent.

He hit receivers in a way that would get him kicked out of the NFL today, and he covered and played the run, too.

“You know how they always talk about eighth man in the box to stop the run game? That was Lynch,” Sapp said. “We didn’t call him the eighth man in the box. We said, ‘Let’s funnel it to Lynch.’ We gonna make you go down the gauntlet to the man, and he’s gonna light yo’ ass up.”

There are a couple factors working against Lynch’s candidacy, though.

One is that the Buccaneers played a zone defense created by Tony Dungy. The zone might frustrate pass rushers, but it’s seen as an easier system for defensive backs.

It’s the same knock that some critics, including retired cornerback Darrelle Revis, have leveled at 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman.

Shanahan isn’t buying it.

“People acted like (Lynch) was a Tampa 2 safety and things like that,” the coach said. “Anybody watching that Denver defense (in 2005, when the Broncos were coached by Kyle Shanahan’s father, Mike), they were running more all-out blitzes than anyone that I’ve seen in my entire career, by far. I mean, they were averaging about 10 or 15 a game. You wouldn’t have thought that was John’s No. 1 asset. And he went there and did it as good as anyone. I think John could’ve done any scheme possible.”

The real obstacle for Lynch, though, is a class of finalists heavy on safeties. Joining him among the final 15 are Steve Atwater (who played mostly for the Broncos), LeRoy Butler (Packers) and Troy Polamalu (Steelers).

I think Polamalu is the only lock of the four. Sapp thinks that’s stupid.

“There’s a blueprint of how you play Troy Polamalu,” he said. “You put four receivers and you get him off the line of scrimmage, and he turns into a regular guy. That’s what Tom Brady did to him every time they lined up. … I don’t think there’s a blueprint for Lynch.”

OK, let’s run through some basic accolades and numbers, which might be a poor gauge of true talent but usually provides some insight into Hall of Fame voting.

Super Bowls won: Atwater 2, Polamalu 2, Lynch 1, Butler 1.

Pro Bowls: Lynch 9, Atwater 8, Polamalu 8, Butler 4.

All-Pro designations: Polamalu 4, Butler 4, Atwater 2, Lynch 2.

Interceptions and fumble recoveries: Butler 48, Polamalu 39, Lynch 35, Atwater 32.

Sacks: Butler 20½, Lynch 13, Polamalu 12, Atwater 5.

Does that clarify things? No, not much. An it may come down to how many safeties get in this year. One? Two? Is three even a possibility?

Lynch’s status as general manager of a Super Bowl team is a weird factor, too. It gives him visibility, which has an outsized sway on voters.

But I could imagine some of them figuring chances are running out for someone like Atwater, while, who knows, Lynch (the 2019 NFL executive of the year) might eventually have a shot of getting in as a contributor.

Either way, the odds don’t seem wonderful for Lynch. At least the hurly-burly of the Super Bowl prevents him from fixating.

“I think it probably makes it a little easier,” he said. “Just because my mind’s elsewhere. My mind’s on doing anything I can do — and at this point there’s not a whole lot — but with Super Bowl there’s so many details that are popping up, and just getting to practice and where we’re going and all that. Just making sure we’re making it as normal as possible for these guys.”

Sapp isn’t trying to tune out anything.

“My dawg getting in the Hall of Fame and hoisting his second Lombardi Trophy would be a damn good end to the weekend,” he said. “Ahh, my God. You talk about riding off in the sunset. That’d really be the way to go.”

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-529-5218 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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