So let me set the scene: I am sitting at my desk at work on Monday, slaving away as always, when all of a sudden, I see an email from our fair leader here at Predominantly Orange, Kim Constantinesco. The content of said email was what initially appeared to be a rhetorical question: “Would you like to interview John Lynch?”
It is a good thing that this was an email and not a phone call or face-to-face conversation. For if it was, I would have probably blurted out a cavalcade of off-color expletives en route to an emphatic, “HECK YES!” After all, I do my best to be a gentleman in the presence of a lady and I could not have been held responsible for the involuntary string of – what Bill Cosby referred to as – flim-flarm-filth that my excitement would have rendered me incapable of containing.
The opportunity for my interview with Lynch presented itself because of an interview he conducted with Denver Broncos‘ executive vice president of football operations, and Hall of Fame quarterback, John Elway for “Fox Sports 1 on 1” (premiering Tuesday, January 7th, 8:00 PM on FS1). Lynch provided great insight and perspective on a myriad of issues; from Elway’s baseball career to thoughts on this year’s NFL playoffs. On a personal level, he made the first interview for this writer comfortable and easy to conduct. This is how it went:
PO: So you had a chance to sit down with John Elway and touch on many topics. Not the least of which was the hypothetical of “What If?” What if the Baltimore Colts didn’t trade Elway to Denver; or even draft him to begin with? What if “The Boss”, George Steinbrenner was able to close the deal when the two met in the owner’s box in a 1983 meeting; opening the door for John Elway to be the next right fielder for the New York Yankees? I can’t imagine that Elway has (or should have) any regrets about a hall-of-fame career in the NFL, but did you get any sense during the interview that there was even a little part of him that would have wanted to see if he could have dominated Major League Baseball as he did the National Football League?
JL: I think, just knowing John a little and during the interview, I think absolutely. He’s a guy who’s managed to be wildly successful in just about everything he’s ever done and I think there’s a tinge of him that says, ‘What if’ and I know – you’ll see in the interview – that, you know I think originally that whole idea with the Yankees was a leverage play…but after he met The Boss, you know, Steinbrenner, as you can imagine was pretty persuasive and John thinked it twice…It went from leverage to being a reality because he enjoyed the man so much.”
PO: As a two sport star at Stanford yourself and former pro baseball player in the Marlins organization, do you ever allow your competitive side to entertain the “What If” scenario as it pertains to a career in the Majors? Not necessarily any regrets, rather just a healthy curiosity?
JL: Well, yeah absolutely. I think early in my career more so because I wasn’t like John in that, I didn’t play my rookie year. It took me til my third year to become a full-time player and meanwhile, the Marlins, the team I was drafted with was winning world championships…Charles Johnson and Edgar Renteria, guys I came in with – that I was right there with – were on those World Series teams. So I thought about it a lot then. I think one thing that was clear with me always was I made the decision for the right reasons. I mean football was my passion, and when I was young and football wasn’t goin’ so hot, I was going, ‘I’m not too smart!…I left a real promising career and these guys are winning world series…and I’m riding the pine for a bad organization and playing special teams…it doesn’t make much sense.’ But I think once my career started taking off, I knew it was reaffirmed that I had made the right decision.
PO: That must have been validated in January of 2003 when you got that championship.
JL: Yes, that’s special. It’s what you play for. We’re obviously at that time of year, the Broncos are right there. I tell ya what, I’m working this weekend. I’m doing the Seattle-New Orleans game for Fox. I was off last weekend and it is so fun…as much fun as I have out doing games each and every weekend, just being home with my family, with my kids watching football it is just a blast. And I think especially because once you’ve been a part of a championship you know just how special it is…AND how hard they are to win. So it’s a special time of year.
PO: OK, so you and John are great friends, you both played football and baseball at Stanford, you both had hall of fame careers in the NFL, you are both Super Bowl champions, and you were both integral parts of the Denver Broncos history and legacy. There is only one thing that really separates the two of you and to me, that is a fe de complet. Of course I am referring to your eventual induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Elway gave a very emotional speech at his enshrinement. Have you guys discussed at all, has he discussed with you how to handle the moment and not let the emotions overwhelm you the day your number is called?
JL: You know, when we’re around each other, he’ll kinda go there…I don’t go there. I’m hopeful that it does happen but it’s just something you have no control over. So, it’s actually one of the weirdest situations that I’ve ever been involved with. When the control I had was my career and I did all I could do to control that but it truly is in other people’s hands. So when I’m with guys like that they’ll say, ‘When WE’RE there…’ and I just don’t go there. But in the interview, we talked a little bit about his hall of fame experience and his daughter, Jessie giving an unbelievable speech and it was a pretty moving moment in that interview, him talking about that.
PO: He had to answer a lot of questions prior to 1997 about Super Bowl rings validating his career, his legacy. Kind of in that same vane, do you think you need entry into the Hall in order to validate your place in history?
JL: No, you know I don’t think so. I tell you what, Matty each and every time…this is the second year I was named to the 25 semi-finalists. I’m just so humbled and honored to even be considered with that. Like I said, I did everything I could while I played. I left it all out there. I was able to win one championship. It burns me now, it’s funny, you look back and you always say no regrets. And that’s true, but I do sit there and say, ‘Gosh, we should have had four or five down in Tampa and we should have had one that year in Denver when we had Pittsburgh in our place.’ You know those ones that got away are the ones that hurt. In terms of the hall of fame, it would be tremendous if it happened, but like I said theres not much you can do about it. You just sit back and enjoy it….if you can call it that.
PO: I saw an excerpt from the interview whereby John admitted that he did not want to pressure Peyton Manning into a snap decision in relation to his return to football in an effort to steer him to Denver; rather to be very deliberate about the decision because a snap decision would be the wrong decision. Did Elway express any concern that his advice to Manning, magnanimous as it was, could jeopardize the Broncos chances of landing the most sought after free agent in the history of the NFL?
JL: I think you kind of had the Yin and the Yang there. John talks about it a little in that John was not making the hard sell. It was the other John (Fox) that was making a very hard sell. I remember back in those days because I knew Peyton well so they were both kind of relying on me to be some kind of an intermediary. At that point, he (Elway) kind of checked out and it was just him and his family. Elway didn’t call once. He just chilled and said, ‘We’ve done our part.’ But John Fox was calling every five minutes. So it was interesting. I think that’s really part of the reason that the relationship that those two (Elway and Fox) have with the Broncos works so well. They balance each other out very well. I think that’s fascinating, people that have the insight of what went on during that process. It was two years ago but people forget at the same time he let go one of the most popular athletes in the world in (Tim) Tebow and then acquires Peyton Manning. He took a big leap of faith. Not many people could have done that other than John Elway.
PO: You and Peyton have one very critical common thread, aside from being great football players. And that is Dr. Robert Watkins. For those who don’t know, you had suffered the same kind of injury as Peyton in 2004, just before signing with the Broncos. Dr Watkins is the man responsible for surgically repairing both of your necks; allowing you to not only resume your careers, but to do so at the high level you both expected from yourselves. Please elaborate on the confidence (or lack thereof) – pre and post-surgery – on being able to resume your career and how you were able to use your experience to help Peyton work through the physical and psychological hurdles if his surgery.
JL: You know, that’s where Peyton and I – we had always been friends, we met at pro bowls and what not – but really where our friendship took off is that we had that shared experience and it wasn’t very comfortable. You know as a football player you’re taught, and his and my make-up is that you work your way through things and you don’t let anything stand in your way. And you work yourself out of it. Now all of a sudden you get that part of your body, your neck, all of a sudden you start to go, ‘Wow, am I OK…am I going to be OK?’ “Is this something I to want to risk?” And I had never had those feelings and I think he had some of those same feelings. His was obviously much more arduous…and my surgery, the first time worked. He had four ultimately. He eventually went to (Dr.) Watkins. The first three were done by someone else. I think we were really able to have a common thread that I could help him out. I could be a sounding board. I could give him advise and tell him what I felt. Ultimately each of those is different. You have to handle it your own way. You know, you’re a little bit at the mercy of the good Lord as to how things heal. I know this, we’re both extremely thankful to Dr. Watkins, he’s as good as there is. I think the thing with both of us is that he just gives you a tremendous confidence that everything was going to be alright. ‘Cause that’s a scary deal when you talk about your neck. We had different deals: I needed to hit people and he needed to be able to throw a football. But very similar in that it was a helpless feeling and I think I could help him there. Every other injury you work yourself out of it. This one, nerves heal on their own time. So you just surrender and say, “OK, I’m puttin it in someone else’s hands…a higher being’s hands.” You’re just praying that it’s going to be alright and you don’t know that timetable. So I think just having someone else who has been through it was comforting to him.
PO: Almost a year to the day, and actually the same date on the calendar, a year later, the Broncos will face an almost identical situation Sunday against San Diego as it did against Baltimore in last year’s divisional round: 13-3, AFC West Champs, Home field advantage through the playoffs, most “experts” expecting the Broncos to represent the AFC for the Lombardi trophy in February, and facing a team in the divisional round of the playoffs that on paper, are not as good. Did you sense any apprehension or concern in John that maybe these factors will be in the back of the players’ minds – for better or for worse – leading up to Sunday’s kickoff?
JL: I don’t think aprehension. I think he’s extremely confident. I think he knows they put a great team out there. They’ve assembled a great team; now it’s time to go execute…if you want to win the world championship, you go use all of that talent. I think he knows and everybody with the Broncos know this is not your typical wild card team that snuck in, in the Chargers. They’re a good and formidable team. You know, I had other teams late in the year, Tom Coughlin, for instance. I think it was about week 15, they (the New York Giants) had just played San Diego and he said, ‘Let me tell you, you watch out!…this team can do some damage!’ They got some things; a massive, behemoth offensive line, a quarterback playing at a high level, the defense has gotten progressively better so I think there’s a great respect from John (Elway) and everybody in that Broncos’ organization. I mean, San Diego came back there and beat ‘em. And I’m not so sure that’s not a healthy thing; to have that respect that they do. But at the same time, he’s very confident. I think that’s one thing where John is so effective as a leader. You know, he’s out coaching these guys, they feel his confidence. He never blinks, you know. And it’s never arrogant and as I said, he’s respectful of their opponents and what not. He’s just got a unique confidence in their ability to get this thing done.
PO: I wrote the other day that the 2013 Chargers, like the 2012 Ravens had to play a near-perfect game, while the Broncos played less than Broncos football in order for them to pull off the upset and advance in the tournament. I want your take on that assessment. Is this case of all things equal, if Denver plays its game, there is nobody that can beat them?
JL: Denver is set up to be successful in that it seems to be that the mindset of how you beat Denver is that you get up and get physical with them and challenge the receivers. Well, they’ve got a multitude of guys that can beat you in a number of ways. I think in those moments, if people want to play them like that, then they have to answer the call. Demaryius Thomas has to say, ‘OK, you want to try and play tight coverage?…you can’t cover me!’ And the same goes for Julius Thomas and Wes Welker. I mean all of these great players that they have assembled has to come and Peyton’s gotta do what Peyton has always done and get them the ball in those situations. And that’s the one way you get people out of it. I think what’s interesting to me about these playoffs is that it’s kind of a return to “old school” football. You’re seeing the Saints run the ball 36 times to beat Philly…the weather. The prevailing thought for years is that the running game didn’t matter anymore. You’re seeing teams with balance being effective. I think with those couple of things, you gotta perform. It’s not going to be a walk-over, but this is an extremely talented team, particularly offensively. Defensively, you’re kind of hangin’ on saying, ‘Which Broncos’ D are we gonna get?’ But this team is set up to have success at this time of year.
PO: I have one question left and it’s kind of a three-parter: Who do you like this week between Denver and San Diego? Fast forward three and a half weeks, which potential Super Bowl matchup do you see being the most compelling? And lastly, who do you think is going to be in New Jersey on February 2nd?
JL: Well, I try not to get into the gambling. You know, as an analyst you try to stay out of that game of predicting things. But I will tell you that of course, I’m a San Diego…that’s where I was raised and all of that, but I’m a Bronco. That’s where I finished my career and they were great to me. I think they’re the better football team. I’d be surprised if they didn’t prevail. As for the Super Bowl matchup, I said from the offseason that it would be Denver and Seattle. I think that would be an incredibly compelling matchup. They’re just two extremely deep rosters. As to whether that happens or not, that was my call early and I’m gonna stick with it. But these are the playoffs and we’ve seen crazy things happen already. Crazy things can happen. Ultimately you gotta perform when your number’s called…it’s hard to do. It’s particularly hard when you’re supposed to be the person. I think we’ve seen in recent history, it’s not all the number one seeds that get there. It’s hard for those guys because they’ve been the favorites from early on, but I think they are the best teams.
If you missed the premier airing of Fox Sports 1 on 1, featuring John Elway, check your local listings for a re-air on FSN1.
This was a great experience for this orange-and-blue-bleeding Broncos fan and sports geek. I think I finally understand how 13-year-old girls at a One Direction meet-and-greet feel.