TAMPA — Tonight in New York, herders for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will steer 15 finalists in varying states of nervousness into a room. There, they will wait for the word. Among them: Derrick Brooks, Tony Dungy, John Lynch.
They’ll discover if they’ll follow Sapp Daddy to Canton, Ohio.
Brooks, Dungy, Lynch. The linebacker, the coach, the safety. They built a defense and friendships that live on. They’ll always go together, no matter what happens tonight.
“Where do you start, the beginning or the end?” Brooks asked.
Brooks on Dungy’s first phone call after he was hired: “I was in Tallahassee at school. He told me I was going to be a leader. ... Coach Dungy says, ‘I have expectations for you. Don’t shy away from them. Finish school, make straight A’s and I’ll see you in minicamp.’”
Lynch on meeting Brooks: “I got here in ’93. Derrick got here in ’95 with Warren. I was thrilled we drafted them. First time, I was watching film in the back of old One Buc. The door busts open and Brooks is just laughing and Sapp is talking. ‘There’s that hard-hitting white dude who knocks people out,’ Sapp says. Brooks, he just said, ‘Let’s go to work.’ ”
Dungy on Brooks: “I can visualize 50 plays, Dorsey Levens, or Barry Sanders, or Robert Smith, catching that ball and Derrick just coming in and sawing them in half.”
Brooks on Lynch: “Friendly fire? Yes. I remember several. I’m painful now. Against Washington. I think it was ’96. ‘Damn it, Lynch,’ I was tackling Reggie Brooks. I’m going down on top of the dude and here comes Lynch, right in my side. ... ‘Damn it, Lynch.’ ... ‘I’m sorry, Brooksy, I’m sorry.’ ”
Dungy: “You saw their super competitiveness, but you also saw guys who cared about their teammates, about their city. Those guys, it was important for them to do the right thing.”
Lynch on Dungy’s first team meeting: “He told us our job is to win a championship, but if that’s all we’d done, we haven’t done enough. Our responsibility was to give back to the community. … If you look back at those teams, those times, there was a great feeling between the team and the town. And Tony drove that.”
Brooks on Lynch: “His competitiveness exceeds everything. He got the most out of every ounce of his body of talent.”
Lynch on Brooks: “He kind of had this funny gait, running style, kind of a gallop. But he covered as much ground on a football field as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Brooks on Dungy: “You got to lead with historical facts. He has a lot of history in this league. You start with Chuck Noll’s influence and Coach Dungy’s defense, how he carries his team. Being part of the turnaround here, then going to Indy to win, in a different manner. Obviously the Super Bowl, being the first African-American coach to win it.”
Lynch: “Brooks? The guy embodies what a Hall of Famer is all about. Tony Dungy? I would just say look at all the guys out there, players, coaches. He was part of their careers. He raised us all up, on and off the field.”
Brooks: “When Lynch was cut (by the Bucs)? I listened. I didn’t say much. He said it was about the medical stuff. He vowed, ‘I’ll be back.’ I told him, ‘JL, I have no doubt you will.’ ”
Dungy: “I think I honestly will feel worse if I go in and they don’t more than if they go in and I don’t.”
Lynch: “When I found out I made the (final) 15, the first two text messages were from Tony and Brooks right behind him.”