TAMPA — Linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety John Lynch and coach Tony Dungy, key components when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were transformed from a Johnny Carson punchline to an NFL power, are finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2014.
Dungy and Brooks advanced in their first year of eligibility when the list of 25 modern-day semifinalists was whittled to a final group of 15. They are joined by Lynch, who also survived Thursday's cutdown — a year after he was eliminated at a similar stage of the process.
The Class of 2014 will be named Feb. 1, the day before the Super Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J. A maximum of five modern-day candidates are allowed into any class.
Members of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee will discuss the merits of Brooks, Lynch and Dungy during a lengthy meeting Feb. 1 before the Class of 2014 is announced that evening during a nationally televised NFL awards show.
The late defensive end Lee Roy Selmon had been the only Buccaneer inducted into the Canton, Ohio, shrine to excellence until last summer, when he was joined by two-time All-Decade defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
“We had a special group in Tampa and one of the greatest defenses of all time,'' Lynch said from Seattle, where the Fox TV analyst is preparing for his first playoff telecast — Saturday's NFC divisional round matchup between the Seahawks and Saints. “The recognition we're getting from the Hall has been earned and it is a great honor to be included with these names.''
Brooks, currently the president of the Tampa Bay Storm, played all 14 of his NFL seasons with the Bucs, earning 11 Pro Bowl berths while defining the weakside linebacker position in the highly influential Tampa 2 defense.
During Tampa Bay's 2002 title season, Brooks returned three interceptions for TDs and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year. He entered the NFL with Sapp as a first-round draft pick in 1995.
“I really think I'm a level-headed guy, but I must admit the closer you get to it (Hall of Fame), you become a lot more nervous,'' Brooks said Thursday night while sitting next to Dungy at One Buc Place during the live NFL Network broadcast.
Dungy, now an NBC football analyst living in Tampa, replaced Sam Wyche on the Bucs sideline in 1996. Joining a franchise that was often ridiculed nationally while reeling off 13 consecutive losing seasons, Dungy had the Bucs in the playoffs in his second year and posted a 54-42 record during his six seasons in Tampa.
Dungy went 85-27 in seven years with Indianapolis and became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl when he led the 2006 Colts to a 16-4 mark. He retired in 2009 after making the playoffs in an NFL-record 10 straight seasons and Dungy's career winning percentage (.668) ranks 11th all-time.
“I was nervous just looking at it tonight and wondering what was going to happen,'' said Dungy, who coached Brooks, Lynch, Sapp and Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who also advanced Thursday in his first year of eligibility. “I'm hoping Derrick, Marvin and John wind up joining Warren Sapp ... that would be a thrill for me.''
Lynch, who worked the first three Bucs games this year for Fox, played 11 seasons in Tampa after being selected in the third round of the 1993 draft.
A hard-hitting safety who registered 23 career interceptions and 973 tackles for Tampa Bay, Lynch made the Pro Bowl five times as a Buccaneer before earning a trip to Hawaii in each of his four seasons in Denver. He currently lives in San Diego.
Brooks, Lynch and Dungy are joined on the list of 15 finalists by former 49ers owner and Tampa resident Ed DeBartolo, who is listed in the contributor category.
“Tony, Derrick and John have meant so much to me, both personally and professionally, and I am thrilled to see them move one step closer to induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” said new Bucs coach Lovie Smith. “They embraced the exceptional level of hard work and dedication that it took to achieve success on the field, while displaying the highest character and moral values off of it.''
The two senior nominees for the Class of 2014 are punter Ray Guy and defensive end Claude Humphrey.