If ever you doubted that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been incredibly influential in the NFL, look no further than tonight's Hall of Fame ballot: three Bucs are represented on the list, all three of them interwoven with the Tampa 2 defense. No other defensive scheme is so interwoven with one team's identity.
Of the three candidates, though, Derrick Brooks is the only "lock" to make it into the Hall tonight. While all three are strong candidates and can expect to make it in at some point, Brooks is the only one who is so good, so dominant, that he's the first name the selectors will write down. After that, we'll have to wait and see.
Derrick Brooks, Linebacker
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1995-2008
Derrick Brooks was the consummate professional and the ultimate weakside linebacker, a position he practically invented. Coming into the NFL, Brooks was seen by many teams as a safety, but the fast and undersized Florida State Seminole was convinced he could make it as a linebacker, and so were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They weren't sorry they picked him with the 28th pick of the 1995 NFL draft.
Over his career, Brooks turned into the perfect linebacker in the most dominant defensive scheme of thte late 1990s and early 2000s. The Tampa 2 would never have been the Tampa 2 without Brooks' instincts, study and all-around abilities. He could cover the pass, stop the run and even blitz when necessary. No one had more range as a linebacker than Brooks in his prime, and no one got to the ball faster than him. He made that obvious in 2002, when he led the NFL with a ridiculous five defensive touchdowns, and added a sixth in the Super Bowl.
Derrick Brooks has been named a future Hall of Famer since that season, and rightly so. This is the first year the Pro Football Hall of Fame will get the opportunity to take away the "future" in that statement, and they're almost certain to do so.
11 Pro Bowls, 5-time First-Team All-Pro
2002 Defensive Player of the Year
2002 Walter Payton Man of the Year
2003 "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year
2000s All-Decade Team
25 interceptions, 13.5 sacks and an insane amount of tackles.
John Lynch, Safety
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1993-2003
Denver Broncos, 2004-2007
Warren Sapp is in the Hall of Fame and Derrick Brooks is almost certain to go in this year. Whether John Lynch will remains to be seen, but his status as a Hall of Fame candidate won't change anything about his absolutely dominant career. Lynch was a third-round pick out of Stanford university when Stanford university was not pooping out NFL players left and right and turned into the prototype hard-hitting safety after struggling early in his career.
He was the key to stopping the run for the Bucs' Tampa 2. He had to play the eighth man as a box safety, but still have the speed to get back and play a deep half in coverage at the same time, all the while making sure any receiver going over the middle would remember his name for quite some time. Tackling Barry Sanders may have been his career best accomplishment, and Sanders always remembered those hits.
After leaving Tampa Bay due to salary cap issues and a chronic neck injury, Lynch somehow still managed to go to four Pro Bowls as a Denver Bronco. While he wasn't as dominant as Brooks or Sapp, he should have a place in the Hall of Fame some day. Will that be today?
9 Pro Bowls, 2-time first-team All-Pro
2006 Bart Sarr Man of the Year and "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year
13 sacks, 26 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and a slightly less insane number of tackles.
Tony Dungy, Coach
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1996-2001
Indianapolis Colts, 2002-2008
In the Tampa Bay area, Tony Dungy is untouchable. He brought the franchise back to respectability, taught the players how to win and built the best defense the NFL would see for quite some time. His Tampa 2 scheme took the NFL by storm, and his coaching tree features numerous (former) head coaches as a result: Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, Leslie Frazier, Raheem Morris and Herman Edwards coached directly under Dungy, and if we continue with some branches you'll find a lot more branches.
While being the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl was one of his biggest accomplishments, Bucs fans will remember him for making a seemingly-doomed franchise relevant again, and laying the groundwork that would allow Jon Gruden to come in and win a Super Bowl the year after he was fired. No coach was more consistently successful in Tampa Bay than Dungy.
Even so, his years in Indianapolis were extremely impressive as well, even with Peyton Manning at the helm. A team that was built around offense needed just a little defense to help them get to the next level, and that's what Dungy brought. Overall, he's a very strong candidate for the Hall of Fame. Will he get in on the first ballot against this strong field, though?
Won Super Bowl XLI
Career 139-69(.668) record, 9-10 playoff record.
The NFL Honors show will air at 8PM ET today, where this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees will be announced.