TBO.com, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather
Friday, Aug 01, 2014

Fennelly: Sapp takes long road to Canton

By
Published:   |   Updated: August 1, 2013 at 10:52 AM

The president and executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame read the names. He did so alphabetically ... Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells and Dave Robinson ...

"... and Warren Sapp."

And Warren Sapp.

Last, but never least.

Warren Sapp is a Hall of Famer. Sapp Daddy made it in his first time out. He couldn't be blocked for most of his career and they couldn't deny him Saturday. And he couldn't stop his tears.

"That was the first time I've actually heard my name ring in my own ears," Sapp said.

Lee Roy Selmon is already in Canton. Derrick Brooks, who patrolled behind Sapp, will probably join 99 next year, along with maybe Tony Dungy. And John Lynch and Ronde Barber, get them there, too -- Tampa 2, Ohio branch.

"Without my boys, I wouldn't be sitting right here," Sapp said.

We always knew we were watching greatness when we watched Sapp. We never doubted it was something we hadn't seen, a 300-pound man racing like a sprinter, twirling like a ballerina, stalking like a lion.

He changed the position he played, he changed the Bucs, he stopped the jokes and helped make a champion.

He didn't compete for money, though he made a lot of it, and lost a lot of it, too. He didn't compete for fans or to them, not really. He competed to win, to have his guys, and those other guys, remember his name, remember 99, whether it was Brett Favre or Joe Nobody. He played to be great. The Hall, it's just a byproduct.

"Because you only play for the respect of your peers and your teammates," Sapp said on the NFL Network after his name was announced. "And if you were going to pick 11 on defense, and they said, 'Who's the three technique?' you better be picking me. That's all I ever wanted from anybody that played with me or against me. If you lined up 11, and you say, 'Who's at the three technique?' I'm taking Sapp. That's all I ever wanted."

Tony Dungy remembers the conversation when he came to Tampa to be head coach and then-general manager Rich McKay asked Dungy what his defense was going to be about.

Dungy explained, "It starts close to the ball. You've got to get that guy, and the guy behind him is the next guy and the safety behind him is the guy after that. Without that guy up front being a disruptive force, it doesn't work."

Sapp, Brooks, Lynch -- it worked. Lord, did it work.

Warren Sapp was that guy.

We have never really figured out, completely anyway, when or why the fire began, the fire Warren Sapp couldn't always turn off, even off the field.

Maybe part of it was being the youngest of six, raised by a single mom, or, as Sapp put it, "When you're a little boy growing up in a country town like Plymouth, Fla., and there's a dirt road in front of you every day."

That road didn't seem to lead to anywhere, but Warren Carlos Sapp found a way, all the way to immortality.

"It was third down today -- it was my day," he said.

There was talk that maybe some Hall voters had axes to grind with the man. But his brilliance on the field, his dominance, cut through everything. He's in, and he'll always be in.

Watching the man play, with a laser's focus, but a child's joy, was unforgettable. His 15-year-old daughter, Mercedes, will present him at the Hall induction.

During Saturday's Hall show, Sapp's NFL Network co-workers (and Hall members) Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders saluted him.

"Congratulations, you joined the club," Neon told 99.

Sapp Daddy's eyes filled, again. For a few moments, he said nothing. Warren Sapp -- speechless.

He will recover quickly, no doubt. It was his day, his night, probably his early morning, too.

Have at it, big man. It has long been true that whenever people talk about the Buccaneers, the name Sapp will always be right up front, close to the ball, near Lee Roy.

Now there's more.

For when they tell the story of pro football, they'll talk about all those greats, legends dipped in bronze, name after name, legend after legend ... and Warren Sapp.

Comments