The NFL has made a concerted effort to prevent head injuries in recent seasons, adding a layer of irony to John Lynch’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
“I remember that if he played right now, he wouldn’t be able to play,” cornerback Richard Sherman said Thursday, hours after the 49ers general manager was named a Hall of Fame candidate after being a finalist in the top 15 the past five years.
“I mean, he was a great player, he was smart, but he was an enforcer. And those were the days when football was actually a sport where you could be physical. If he hit somebody even with half the power that he was hitting them with now, he’d be kicked out of the league. He’d be banned. And that’s sad.”
Sherman has been a vocal opponent of the league’s new rule that prohibits players from initiating contact with their helmet, which was something Lynch did with regularity as one of the league’s biggest hitters with Tampa Bay and Denver. He was named to nine Pro Bowls during his 15 NFL seasons.
“Back in the day when it was cool to knock people in the head, that was John. He was awesome,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “... He just showed up everywhere and he brought pain to offensive players and made you love football.”
Lynch joins seven former 49ers players who are also eligible: quarterback Jeff Garcia, receiver Isaac Bruce, running back Ricky Watters, tight end Brent Jones, linebacker Takeo Spikes, safety Tim McDonald and defensive lineman Bryant Young.
Lynch will also be joined by first-year candidates tight end Tony Gonzalez, linebacker London Fletcher, cornerback Champ Bailey and fellow safety Ed Reed. There are 102 modern-era finalists. The group will be reduced to 25 semi-finalists in November and then 15 finalists in January.