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Monday, November 17, 2008
Lynch's perfect career ends perfectly


Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
 
 Craig Jones/Getty Images
 John Lynch officially ended a decorated career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

TAMPA, Fla. -- For more than an hour Monday, the memories -- and even a few tears -- flowed. Then a video highlight presentation covered all the familiar ground. And it ended the only way it could -- with John Lynch hoisting a Super Bowl trophy. That was only fitting because, on the surface, John Lynch is perfect.

As he walked away from a possible Hall of Fame football career (he once gave up a promising baseball career), everything looked perfect. His beautiful wife and four children sat in the front row as Lynch gave a speech most politicians could only dream of.

He's going to walk into the broadcast booth this weekend and, undoubtedly, be successful. Lynch wouldn't even rule out a future in politics, although he did laugh (rather lightly) at rumors that he's going to run for governor of Colorado.

But on the day Lynch officially retired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we found out for the first time he's not perfect. Very close, but not quite.

Lynch, who didn't even seem to sweat when he played football, told two stories that never had been fully told before. The first involved former Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy, who might be the only person in the NFL who appears more perfect than Lynch.

But, now, it looks like Lynch and Dungy each have lied at least once in their lives. Of course, Lynch tried to cushion the blow by first apologizing to the media for an incident in 1998 that was reported as an on-field injury.

It happened on the Saturday before a game as Lynch and defensive tackle Brad Culpepper were having an impromptu kicking contest. Culpepper made a field goal from 30 yards and Lynch followed. Culpepper nailed another field goal from 40 and Lynch did the same.

After Culpepper hit from 50, Lynch blew out his quadriceps muscle. Dungy wasn't happy that his starting strong safety wouldn't be a factor.

"Coach Dungy was nice enough to say to the media that John Lynch pulled his quad on the first play of the game,'' Lynch said.

With one skeleton out of the closet, Lynch released another. He told a story that had been sort of known, but never truly detailed, for many years. It's a lesson in the chemistry of a football team and a lesson in life.

There haven't been two more contrasting personalities in the history of the Bucs than Lynch and defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Lynch was born to parents who owned radio and television stations throughout Southern California. Lynch grew up in Del Mar, Calif., which is as posh as the name suggests.

Sapp grew up in hard-scrabble Apopka, Fla., which is even more desolate than the name might suggest. As polished and tame as Lynch always was off the field, Sapp was the exact opposite and the two clashed.

Back in the mid-1990s, some people who flew on team flights used to tell stories of Sapp relentlessly picking on Lynch. Sapp called Lynch things like "pretty boy'' and "rich guy'' and often made mention of a silver spoon.

It got ugly on a flight in 1996 as Lynch tired of the taunts.

"I think (Trent) Dilfer and (Derrick) Brooks were there to catch my right arm,'' Lynch said.

The stories at the time suggested Lynch's fist did make contact with Sapp's face, but the details really don't matter now.

"After that, Warren said, 'All right, you can go to war with me','' Lynch said.

Lynch and Sapp grew close after that and they (along with Brooks, Dungy, Dilfer, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Ronde Barber) helped turn one of the league's worst franchises into one of its best.

So there you have it. Lynch once lied and once threw a punch. You knew there had to be a flaw there somewhere. But that's it. Nine Pro Bowls, 26 interceptions, dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of bone-jarring hits. A perfect career and a perfect life.

"In John Lynch, we had someone with Hall of Fame character,'' said Bucs vice president Joel Glazer "We had someone with Hall of Fame dedication. We had someone who had Hall of Fame involvement in the community. On the field, we had someone, who week in and week out, had Hall of Fame play.''

Is Lynch a Hall of Famer? That's a debate for another time -- he won't be eligible for five years.

But, as you looked around the auditorium at One Buccaneer Place, there was no doubt that Lynch, who left the team bitterly in 2004, had a huge impact on the Bucs and Tampa. Lining the chairs and the walls were Bucs past and present, from Doug Williams to Brooks, Dunn and Barber. There was Tampa sports royalty, from Monsignor Laurence Higgins ("the sports priest'') to Tom McEwen, the legendary former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune and an instrumental figure in Tampa getting a franchise in 1976.

Sapp couldn't make it because of a commitment with "Dancing With the Stars'', but even current coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, the duo who ran Lynch out of town, showed up and smiled. (For the record, Allen seemed to be the only person in the room or in the league that Lynch didn't thank.)

Who else could have pulled this collection together and made it one of the most special days in franchise history? Maybe Alstott, maybe Brooks, but that's it.

Throughout his playing days, Lynch never was one to pat himself on the back. He finally did just a little of that near the end of his speech.

"I'm proud of the way I played my career,'' Lynch said.

Lynch should be proud. He more than earned that right.