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Tampa Bay great John Lynch almost returned to baseball

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As he talked about joining the Ring of Honor, former Bucs’ great John Lynch didn’t just talk about winning a championship or all the Pro Bowls.

He talked about the tough times, too.

Lynch, at a press conference to announce this week’s pronouncement that he would be the latest player to join the Ring of Honor, talked about a time he regretted leaving a professional baseball career and a temptation to return to that sport before it clicked in the NFL.

“The absolute low-point?” Lynch said. “Maybe when the Florida Marlins – who I had left to come play for the Buccaneers – had won a World Series and I was a backup safety on one of the world’s worst football [teams], one of the worst teams in all of sports. And I’m saying, ‘That wasn’t very intelligent.’ I left something that was really good and this really isn’t working out.’ There were some times where I thought maybe this just isn’t for me. There were even times when I started talking to my agent about maybe let’s start getting this thing going to go back over to baseball while I’m still young and have an opportunity. And it was about at that time that things started going well. This was always where my heart was. When I left baseball for football, I did it for one reason: I absolutely loved and had a passion for the game.”

Lynch eventually showed that passion, making nine Pro Bowl teams. He is a finalist for this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. But originally, he didn’t make an impact, and defensive coordinator Floyd Peters doubted him.

“I think a lot of it was confidence,” he said. “You got to this level and I didn’t have that instant success, so you kind of start believing, ‘Well, maybe I am just a special teams guy.’ Linda and I were talking this morning how, ‘Can you imagine when we first got here, we just said, ‘If we can just make three years. If we can just play this first contract out.’’ Boy, [that] would have been a success.”

The Bucs grew up during Lynch’s tenure.

“There were some lean years and we knew it,” Lynch said. “But at about that time, things started to swing. It started to be a belief amongst a lot of the younger players and the older players that had survived the previous regimes that we were onto something special. And I give so much credit to Coach Dungy who was there. He kind of created the vision for us in terms of what we could do and how we were going to go about doing that. It just took a lot of stubborn guys believing that we could undo a lot of tough and lean years and arrive at the top. We got knocked down a bunch of times.”

Lynch was asked what advice he would give to the current Bucs.

“I think I would tell them kind of what I was explaining – that this place can be so special, when you put that product out there. It is indeed possible and when you get it done, it’s a beautiful thing,” Lynch said. “How you build that, I think you have to have a bunch of single-minded people who buy in to a common goal, people from all kinds of different backgrounds. That’s what Dirk’s task is. That’s what Jason’s task is. To get a bunch of guys that believe they can do it. Then you’ve got to put the work in. You’ve got to be unselfish.

“You’ve got to believe, you really do. It was hard to believe here, because it was a franchise – I remember being told, before I ever came here, ‘You’re going to go there and there’s going to be a lot of guys that say ‘Slow down, rookie, that’s not how we practice here.’ Sure enough, I came out, popped someone and they [said] ‘No, we don’t do that in practice.’ Fighting that urge, to listen to the older guys because you respect them, but then saying, ‘You know what? You guys haven’t won anything, so let’s try something different.’”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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