Towards the twilight of his NFL career, legendary quarterback Peyton Manning was unceremoniously released from the Indianapolis Colts after spending the 2011 season on injured reserve with a series of neck surgeries that put his career in doubt. Peyton Manning's career in Indianapolis was already worthy of Hall of Fame consideration: it included a Lombardi Trophy, four MVP awards, countless number of Pro Bowl/All-Pro selections, and an assault on seemingly untouchable passing records. Already the prodigal son of Indianapolis, Manning even had a children's hospital named after him for his philanthropy efforts in the city.
Following his release, Manning would sign with the Denver Broncos, where he had four more seasons that included another MVP award, a Super Bowl ring, and another Super Bowl appearance to boot. Despite the storied success in Denver, if you looked a Colts fan in the eye and told them that "Peyton Manning shouldn't be remembered as a Colt," you'd probably get a swift and well-deserved left hook to the face.
And that's exactly how I feel when I hear Broncos Fans talking about John Terrence Lynch Jr.
The story of John Lynch's Pro Football career begins in Tampa, and it happened to have a four year detour in Denver. Originally drafted in the 3rd round in 1993, Lynch was as talented a baseball prospect as he was a football one, to the point that Bill Walsh himself told Sam Wyche that he was a "fool" if he didn't draft Lynch [Source]. Lynch's career had a unique start. He parted ways with the Florida Marlins the year they won the World Series and wound up in Tampa, the worst team in football at the time. Though a rookie, Lynch came to the team determined to turn around its milquetoast attitude displayed on the football field.
Lynch approached practice with a level of zeal the team hadn't seen since Lee Roy Selmon's playing days, to the point that veterans would often implore him to "slow down" and to ease up on his hard hitting in practice. To abide by their pleas would be to continue a culture that had plagued the team into losing at worst and mediocrity at best. But Lynch hit. And he hit. And he hit. And he hit some more, and established himself as one of the toughest, physical hitters to ever play professional football.
Our legendary Tampa 2 defense has already seen Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks inducted into the Hall of Fame first ballot, and while their abilities on the field were second to none at the DT and OLB positions, Lynch's leadership and attitude brought to the team were tantamount to the success of our team.
After 11 successful seasons in Tampa, Lynch had a Super Bowl ring to his name, five Pro Bowls, and four All-Pro selections.
The name John Lynch continues to be one synonymous with winning, effort, and leadership, a man revered for these qualities like few to ever wear the red and pewter. Perhaps one of the greatest follies of the Gruden years was parting with Lynch and Sapp prematurely. Sapp continued to produce 10+ sack seasons in Oakland in the middle of their defense, and Lynch played alongside Brian Dawkins to give Denver a ferocious enforcer duo that continued to play at a high level, even into their thirties. For each of his four seasons in Denver, Lynch was selected to the Pro Bowl before he hung it up in 2007.
But that's just it. Four years spent in Denver out of 16 seasons, and Broncos fans discuss Lynch as if he's one of their own. So much to the point he was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Honor. So much to the point that when Broncos fans discuss him, it's almost as if his 11 seasons in Tampa were irrelevant to the career of John Lynch.
Let's not make any mistake of it: John Lynch is ours. Period. You can't have him, you equestrian demon horse pony gobblers.
The Broncos have had a slew of talented players that Denver "owns," so to speak. This list includes John Elway, Randy Gradishar, Steve Atwater, Shannon Sharpe, Champ Bailey, and Terrell Davis, to name a few.
The history of the Denver Broncos can be told without John Lynch. But Tampa's? We may have just been another franchise in the perennial dumps without him. He's ours. And we're still grateful we had him.