LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- This weekend brought me west to see my oldest son's first college baseball game. As I watched the University of Colorado Colorado Springs play Cal Poly Pomona, it drew me back to the gridiron. Former Broncos greats John Lynch and Brian Dawkins sit on the doorstep of Canton, learning Saturday whether they receive the call from the Hall.
My connection to Lynch and Dawkins circles back to baseball. Let me explain.
Over the years, I talked the game with Lynch. I first met him after he retired and I was surprised he knew my name. That's when I realized how closely he followed baseball and the Colorado Rockies, my beat for 15 years. Lynch did not just love baseball growing up. He lived it. He clocked 95 miles per hour off the mound, leading the Florida Marlins to draft him in the second round of the 1992 draft. It led to a brief, historically-tinged minor league career. Lynch started nine minor league games, winning one.
However, as a member of the Erie team in the New York-Penn League, he fired the first pitch in the history of the Marlins. His Erie jersey landed in the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.
Will his bust follow in Canton? Lynch offers a compelling case. He played 15 seasons, 11 in Tampa Bay and four in Denver. He made nine Pro Bowl, an important number, including every season in Denver. Per Buccaneers research, 87 percent of players with that many berths have been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Lynch earned first-team All-Pro honors twice in 1999 and 2000. He earned a reputation as an enforcer over the middle. Receivers knew crossing patterns brought pain and consequence. He finished with 733 tackles and 26 interceptions. He also reached the pinnacle of the sport, helping Tampa Bay rout Oakland in Super Bowl 37.
Lynch is a five-time finalist for the Hall, the victim of playing a position woefully under-represented. The voting has shifted toward offense, mirroring fans fascination with offense through fantasy leagues. A year ago, the senior committee elected Kenny Easley, making him the first pure safety to gain entrance since 1980. Lynch could be next. He is one of few players who delivered and gained fame with two teams. The history of the Bucs and Broncos cannot be told without discussing Lynch, who was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2016.
Dawkins brings me back to baseball because he was the human equivalent of a line drive. This guy delivered more big hits than Drake. Do yourself a favor. Enter his name into YouTube. Take a deep breath. And prepare to cringe for receivers. Dawkins, truthfully, features better statistics than Lynch, save for the Super Bowl ring.
He compiled 910 tackles, 37 interceptions and 26 sacks. He provided the soundtrack on game day, leading with passion while authoring a diary of havoc. Like Lynch, Dawkins made nine Pro Bowls, twice with the Broncos. However, he landed first-team All-Pro honors four times, cementing his status among his peers.
I talked with Dawkins at length in 2014 when I rejoined the NFL beat. I was writing a story on T.J. Ward's arrival in Denver as a free agent, and Dawkins liked the move. He viewed Ward as a "thumper," a guy capable of bringing an edge and a layer of intimidation needed on gnarly defenses. Ward has since left the Broncos, but not before a successful three-year run, while playing a key role in the Super Bowl 50 victory.
This past summer, Dawkins returned to the Eagles 20 years after they drafted him out of Clemson. He holds a front office position, but also served as voluntary secondary coach in training camp. If the Eagles win the Super Bowl on Sunday, Dawkins will receive a ring. He does not need it to justify his excellence.
During their long careers, Dawkins and Lynch played at a Hall of Fame level. Saturday they will learn if the title becomes official.
It's about time the voters stop striking out. One or both of these players demands a Hall pass.