After years as teammates, striving together to achieve team goals, former Buccaneers players Derrick Brooks and John Lynch and coach Tony Dungy are in a potentially discomforting position today — competing for individual honor. Each is among 15 modern-day finalists seeking election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. Here is a look at the credentials for Brooks, Lynch and Dungy by Tribune NFL writer Ira Kaufman, a voting member of the Selection Committee whose responsibility it is to present each of the three for consideration.
Derrick Brooks, LB
Year of eligibility: 1
Teams (years): Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1995-2008)
Seasons: 14 Games: 224
All-Pro: 5 Pro Bowls: 11
HALL OF FAME CASE: Brooks never missed a game during a 14-season career in which he established himself as a cornerstone for what was considered one of the NFL's best defenses for a decade. Brooks earned a starting position at weak-side linebacker in training camp of his rookie year and started all but three — the games the Bucs opened with extra defensive backs against run-and-shoot teams. He never missed a start for the remainder of his 224-game career.
In 1997, Brooks led the Bucs to their first postseason appearance in 15 years, topping the team with 182 tackles to earn the first of his 11 Pro Bowl selections.
Brooks was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, when he led Tampa Bay with 173 tackles and registered a career-high five interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
He was a major contributor in the Bucs' victory in Super Bowl XXXVII, returning an interception 44 yards for a score against the Raiders.
Brooks made first-team All-Pro five times and was selected to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
REBUTTAL: In a 14-year career that spanned three head coaches, Brooks registered only 13.5 sacks. New Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, who served as Tampa Bay's linebackers coach from 1996-2000, said Brooks was more valuable to the team playing in space and rarely had an opportunity to blitz.
John Lynch, S
Year of eligibility: 2
Teams (years): Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1993-2003), Denver Broncos (2004-07)
Seasons: 14 Games: 224
All-Pro: 2 Pro Bowls: 9
HALL OF FAME CASE: Lynch worked hard to secure a permanent starting role at strong safety in 1996, his fourth pro season. He made the most of his opportunity as he racked up more than 100 tackles and tied his career high with three interceptions.
From that point forward, he was the anchor of Tampa Bay's secondary on a defense that perennially ranked among the NFL's best.
Lynch was voted to the first of nine Pro Bowls following the 1997 season. He earned first-team All-Pro recognition in 1999 and 2000 while forging a reputation as one of the league's hardest-hitting safeties.
In 2002, he was an integral part of the Buccaneers' championship season, contributing 96 tackles (50 solo), three interceptions, and 12 passes defensed as Tampa Bay finished 12-4.
Lynch signed as a free agent in 2004 with Denver, where he played the final four seasons of his 15-year career and was named to his final four Pro Bowls. The Broncos went to the conference championship in his second season in Denver.
In all, Lynch posted 26 interceptions, 13 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and 1,058 tackles.
REBUTTAL: Safety has traditionally been an undervalued position in the Hall. Only seven pure safeties have a bust in Canton, and the last of those was inducted in 1998 when Paul Krause, the NFL's career interception leader (81), entered the Hall — 14 years after he was first eligible. No full-time safety who played a game after 1980 has been inducted.
Tony Dungy, coach
Year of eligibility: 1
Teams (years): Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2001), Indianapolis Colts (2002-08)
Seasons: 13 Division titles: 6
Conference titles: 1 Super Bowl titles: 1
HALL OF FAME CASE: During his six years with the Buccaneers and seven with the Colts, Tony Dungy established himself as one of the most successful and influential head coaches in modern NFL history.
Dungy's teams set a league record with 10 consecutive playoff appearances (1999-2008) before his retirement ended the streak. His .668 winning percentage during the regular season (139-69) ranks No. 6 among all NFL coaches with at least 100 victories. The five men ahead of him — John Madden, George Allen, George Halas, Don Shula and Paul Brown — are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dungy averaged 10.7 wins per season, which stands at the top of all NFL coaches with at least four years of experience.
In leading the 2006 Colts to a championship, Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl. He has been a powerful NFL voice in urging more diversity within the coaching ranks. The list of Dungy assistants who have gone on to be head coaches in the NFL includes Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, Leslie Frazier, Rod Marinelli and Herm Edwards.
Dungy won at least 12 games in each of his final six seasons with the Colts and was named to the NFL's All-Decade team of the 2000s.
REBUTTAL: Dungy won only one Super Bowl, despite coaching a dominant defense in Tampa and boasting Peyton Manning at quarterback in Indianapolis. Tom Flores and Jimmy Johnson aren't in the Hall, despite winning two Super Bowls apiece. Two-time Super Bowl winner Bill Parcells joined the Class of 2013 in his fourth year as a finalist.