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John Lynch Jr. elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Lynch celebrates at Qualcomm Stadium after Tampa Bay defeated Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Safety from Torrey Pines High is fourth player from San Diego County high school to earn honor

Former NFL safety John Lynch Jr., who grew up in Solana Beach and was a standout quarterback and pitcher for Torrey Pines High School, has been elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the organization announced Saturday night, Feb. 6.

In his eighth straight appearance as a Hall of Fame finalist, Lynch received enough votes to join the Class of 2021 that will be inducted this summer in Canton. Ohio.

A former two-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion, Lynch will become the fourth alum of a San Diego high school enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining former longtime San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau (Oceanside High) and Super Bowl MVP running backs Marcus Allen and Terrell Davis, both alums of Lincoln High.

Lynch said he learned of his election two weeks ago when a Hall official knocked at the door of his San Diego home. He said he was especially grateful to his family including wife Linda, a former Torrey Pines classmate.

“I’m humbled. I’m honored,” Lynch said in a video he posted on social media. “So many people to thank and we’ll have plenty of time.”

Lynch seldom played the safety position for the football Falcons of Torrey Pines High. Most of his football snaps in high school came at quarterback, but his physical play there and at linebacker translated into Lynch thriving as a Stanford safety.

But it didn’t happen until his senior year, when new Stanford coach Bill Walsh persuaded the former quarterback to give football one more big push instead of devoting all of his athletic attention to baseball.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him a year later in 1993, and Lynch, a 6-foot-2, 214-pound strong safety, would earn nine Pro Bowl berths across a 15-year career. A hard hitter and smart playmaker, he became the back-end leader of a perennially strong defense that 18 years ago led Tampa to its first Super Bowl game.

The game was played in Mission Valley at the stadium where Lynch’s parents, John and Cathy, had taken their three children to watch Chargers and Padres games. The Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII, defeating the Oakland Raiders by a 48-21 score.

“I liked playing quarterback,” Lynch said in 1995, “but in the end I found out that playing defense and hitting people is what I really like.”

Growing up in San Diego, he adorned a bedroom wall with a poster of NFL quarterback John Elway. He would match Elway by playing both football and baseball at Stanford, and being taken in both the NFL and MLB drafts.

During summers, he returned to Torrey Pines High to work out under the supervision of Harland Svare, the former San Diego Chargers head coach. Outside the weight room, an obstacle course was set up with logs and hurdles. It was known as The Patch.

“It was a very special program,” said Ed Burke, a former Torrey Pines coach. “They did all kind of things that were developing strength, agility and speed.”

Burke said Lynch led his Stanford teammates through workouts under Svare. “You had to be a man to go through it,” said Burke. “They would run stairs, they would run hills, they would lift weights.”

Lynch had seldom played through two football seasons, testing his patience.

“He told Harland he was going to ask to switch to safety,” Burke said, “but we couldn’t tell his dad because his dad wanted him to play quarterback.”

Dennis Green, then the Stanford coach, consented, and Lynch earned a starting role at safety. But he was benched during the season, clouding his football outlook for his senior year.

When the Florida Marlins drafted him the following June, in the second round, Lynch began to give more thought to a baseball career.

Enter Walsh, the former 49ers Hall of Fame coach who ‘d become Stanford’s head football coach. Walsh, having studied Lynch’s film at safety, stunned the senior with his forecast.

“You can play safety in the NFL,” he said, “and you can play it at a Pro Bowl-level.”

Lynch pointed out that he had been benched, but Walsh restated his belief.

His confidence lifted, Lynch went to have a big senior season that put him on NFL draft boards. He had a spectacular game against Notre Dame, forcing a fumble by future NFL star Jerome Bettis. (Oddly, though Lynch would rate it the best game of his entire career, NFL included, it was also the only game that he said he sustained a concussion.)

Leading up to the 1993 NFL Draft, Bucs coach Sam Wyche sought a scouting report on Lynch.

“Bill Walsh told me, he’s big,” said Wyche, “but there are a lot of guys bigger. He’s fast, but there are a lot of guys faster. But he said take him and don’t look back. This guy hits like a ton of bricks.”

Once again, Lynch would need a few years to find his groove, but after he earned a permanent starting role and team captaincy in his fourth NFL season, he became a Pro Bowl regular who would finish his NFL career with more than 1,000 tackles to go with 24 interceptions and 13 sacks.

His Super Bowl exploits didn’t match those of fellow San Diego prep alums Allen and Davis, the latter performing in the same San Diego stadium where Lynch and the Bucs faced the Raiders five years later.

But he had a strong game quarterbacking the defense, helping fellow Bucs safety Dexter Jackson earn the game’s MVP award. Before Jackson’s first of two interceptions, Lynch alerted Jackson of “Sluggo Seam,” a deep pass off an initial fake elsewhere. As Lynch made calls, Tampa’s fast, cohesive D overwhelmed the Raiders and quarterback Rich Gannon, who at the game’s 40-minute mark had a 14.0 passer rating and 72 yards passing.

“You watch the tapes, Lynch is calling out some plays before they snapped the ball,” former Bucs coordinator Monte Kiffin told Super Bowl historian Bob McGinn.

For Lynch, who would spend his final four NFL seasons with the Denver Broncos, the Super Bowl victory culminated a journey that had begun on football fields in coastal San Diego -- not far from enticing ocean waves.

“In a lot of places, you hear about losing athletes to the streets,” Lynch had told TampaBay.com before returning to San Diego for the Super Bowl. “Where I’m from, we lose athletes to the surfboards and the beach. The big issue is, when is the next swell coming? I mean, there are some tremendous athletes down there who just want to surf…guys who would be great football players.

“I didn’t go that route,” he said “Football was always my passion.”

After his retirement from the NFL in 2008, Lynch joined Fox Sports as a broadcaster. He worked in that role until January 2017, when he was hired as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. He was named NFL Executive of the Year in 2019 after the team advanced to the Super Bowl.

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San Diego to Canton

Just four players from San Diego high schools have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

Marcus Allen, Lincoln (2003)

Junior Seau, Oceanside (2015)

Terrell Davis, Lincoln (2017)

John Lynch, Torrey Pines (2021)

John Lynch file

Age: 49

Born: Hinsdale, Ill.

High school: Torrey Pines

College: Stanford

NFL draft: Third round, 1993, by Tampa Bay

NFL teams: Tampa Bay (1993-2003), Denver (2004-07)

Current job: General manager, San Francisco 49ers

Career highlights

224 games, plus 12 playoff games

Two-time All-Pro

Nine-time Pro Bowl

26 interceptions

Team captain on Tampa Bay team that won Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003 in San Diego

Winner of 2006 Bart Starr Award, given to a player who shows outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.

Selected as a pitcher in the second round of the 1992 MLB draft by the Florida Marlins. Threw the first pitch in organization’s history, for the Erie Sailors. Played in nine minor-league games.

— Tom Krasovic is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune

Updates

12:57 PM, Feb. 07, 2021: This article was updated with additional quotes and information.


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