Stadium Stories: NFL great John Lynch was beloved (and booed) at Qualcomm Stadium

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SAN DIEGO – It took NFL legend John Lynch a decade to break through for his first Super Bowl. And when it finally came at a stadium he knew all too well, he took a moment to drink it in.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 02: General manager John Lynch of the San Francisco 49ers looks on prior to Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“The first place my eyes went is to where we sat as season ticket holders and watched all those Charger games,” the Torrey Pines graduate Lynch said. “I couldn’t believe — again, I use the word ‘surreal’ — but I was in there actually playing in a Super Bowl and just flooded with memories there.”

Lynch, 49, cemented some new memories that day, too. Featured on a stout defense with the likes of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber, his Buccaneers under first-year coach Jon Gruden marched through the NFC playoffs to defeat Bill Callahan and the then-Oakland Raiders in resounding fashion, 48-21.

It was a sweet moment in his family, particularly coming against a longtime foe, he said.

“Winning and winning in the fashion that we did against the Raiders who my parents used to say, ‘We don’t use the word hate unless you’re talking about the Raiders,'” Lynch said. “Everything just felt on time and exactly right.

“If you’re going to wait 10 years to win a Super Bowl, you might as well do it at home.”

Lynch has spent much of his life around the game. After graduating from Torrey Pines, he played at Stanford before being drafted into the NFL in 1993. He went on to play 15 seasons with the Buccaneers and the Denver Broncos with his last full season coming in 2007.

He worked for years as a NFL broadcaster on FOX and later was hired as the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers in 2017.

But to this day, he still recalls the times playing in front of a San Diego crowd — as well as the times when he didn’t get the chance.

“Never played there in high school and my brother never lets me forget that,” he said. “He won two CIF championships. We won zero. You have to get there to do that and my brother Ryan did it a couple of times. That’s something he reminds me of often.”

Lynch also remembers a moment in the stadium where he was met with boos in a December 2007 matchup against the Chargers.

SAN DIEGO – DECEMBER 10: Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers is tackled by John Lynch #47 of the Denver Broncos December 10, 2006 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Broncos, 48-20. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

“(LaDainian Tomlinson) and I were very good friends but we had a really intense rivalry,” he said. “We were playing the Chargers and I was frustrated we were getting beat. I came up and I really hit LT good and when I came up, I came up with LT’s helmet. I felt like I’d taken his head off. I was in the game and I celebrated by throwing his helmet.

“It was the first time I’d ever been booed in San Diego. That was their favorite player. Yes, I was a homegrown guy but I just messed with their guy. And I was booed.”

But after the game, Tomlinson had his back.

“LT was so good after the game,” he said. “The media went right there. ‘Hey, what happened in the fourth quarter? We know you and John are friends.’ He said, ‘Man, John’s a good guy and that’s competition and he apologized after.’ LT just kind of squashed it.

“I thought, ‘Holy cow, I’m not going to be allowed back in my hometown,’ but LT, the quality human that he is, stood up for me.”

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