John Lynch and Warren Sapp (along with teammate Derrick Brooks) once famously sat up late one night in 1996, in a hotel room in San Diego, and drew a line in the sand. Their Buccaneers were about to take on the Chargers the next day in a game they were expected to lose, and that evening’s ESPN broadcast had referred to them as the “Yucks.” They were determined to bury that nickname forever.
Sixteen years later, Lynch, now an NFL game analyst for FOX, has coincidentally made his home in San Diego. On this particular Thursday night, however, he was in a hotel room in Tampa, having come to town to call Sunday’s Bucs-Eagles game. He was up late, and he got a text from his good buddy Sapp. No outrage this time, just anticipation. Times had certainly changed.
At halftime of Sunday’s game, the Buccaneers will honor Lynch, Sapp and all their teammates and coaches from the 2002 Super Bowl Championship team. That unforgettable season was the culmination of years of hard work and development, and a sea change in franchise attitude, dating back to that night in San Diego. It is a year very much worth celebrating, especially for those involved, and apparently Sapp was having a hard time waiting.
“I don’t know if he’d want me to share this…but last night I was here because I’m doing the game and I had to fly in on Thursday,” said Lynch with a laugh. “At 12:30 last night I get a text from Sapp saying, ‘I’m like a kid going on a field trip. I can’t sleep!’ That’s just awesome.”
In a little over a month, both Sapp and Lynch will find out if they have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Each was recently named one of six first-time-eligible candidates in a field of 27 semifinalists for the Class of 2013. Both have supremely worthy resumes, and both will undoubtedly be helped by the fact that they were key figures on a once-in-a-generation defense that led the Buccaneers to their first NFL title. However, both players moved on to new teams for the last four years of their respective careers, and that inevitability is part of what makes this weekend’s reunion so special for everybody on that 2002 Buccaneer squad.
“It’s really cool how excited people are, and I think it’s simply this: You do something special like this and then everyone goes their own ways,” said Lynch. “It’s the nature of today’s football – people go to different teams, people retire. How often do you get a chance to get everyone back together? This is our chance, and it’s pretty cool.”
There is a very small group of significant people from that 2002 squad who could not return for this weekend’s reunion, such as current Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin. Lynch could have been in the same boat, thanks to his rapidly developing broadcasting career. Had the Buccaneers’ owners not been so thorough in setting up the event, Lynch could have easily been analyzing a game in Minnesota, New York or Green Bay this weekend.
“First of all, I’d like to thank the Glazer family because, before the season they had the foresight to call FOX,” said Lynch. “And they didn’t just mess around – they went to the top guy, [FOX Sports President] Eric Shanks. “He came up to me at the seminar and said, ‘I’ve never had an owner call me before requesting that someone be on a game.’ They called him and he said, ‘Of course we’ll do that.’ It’s awesome that the Glazers thought ahead, and for FOX to allow it.”