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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Sapp's dirt road ends in bronze

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Published:   |   Updated: August 4, 2013 at 01:10 PM

CANTON, Ohio - He had cried every day since he was elected, so why should Saturday night have been different?

He'd think of the dirt road he grew up on, or all the people who helped him off it.

He'd think of family, coaches and teammates . he'd think of the idea he had all along the way:

"If you were picking a football team, and picking a defense, and picking an under tackle or defensive tackle, I wanted you to pick me."

Warren Sapp got picked Saturday night.

He joined Lee Roy Selmon, and all the other legends, becoming the second Buccaneer enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"And I stand before you today one humble, proud country boy from Plymouth, Fla.," Sapp said in his induction speech at the football stadium next to the Hall.

The man talked the talk all his career, oh, did he, but he walked the walk - all the way to Canton.

"Tonight, it's all about Warren Sapp joining his new team," Derrick Brooks said.

Brooks was here, of course. He sat next to John Lynch. Right behind them was Ronde Barber. And Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson - many of the men who with Sapp made the Bucs defense a force of nature.

A few rows in front of them, Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy looked on, not to mention fellow 2013 inductee and former Bucs coach Bill Parcells ... oh, wait, my bad.

The Glazers sat next to Sapp's mother, Annie Roberts, and Sapp's sisters. There was more family, of course, Sapp family, Bucs family. Sometimes, you couldn't tell one from another. When you were in with 99, you were in.

And now he's in, the 280th member of the Hall of Fame.

More than 22,000 men have played in games in the history of the National Football League.

Think about that.

Sapp always loved the stage, the big play, the big moment, the jam, the juice of it all, but - and this was never talked about enough - he didn't mind sharing it, especially with teammates who wanted to win like he did.

He shared Saturday with those he loves and with those who, along with Sapp, built a world champion where once there had been a punch line.

Sapp wore a dark suit - and what looked like white sneakers. He's No. 99, and he's always going to roll his way.

He grew up in a flyspeck town, with a mother who sometimes worked four jobs. Some mornings, he'd get up and go to the orange groves when it was still dark out, to pick fruit in the heat of another day. But always there was a dream of something more.

This was something more. This was Sapp on stage, joined by his daughter, Mercedes, unveiling a bronze bust on a soft summer Ohio night, kissing Mercedes, and then his likeness. His son, Warren II, stood in the crowd and cried.

This was Warren Sapp, recognizing teammates Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, "My rocks that made it possible."

This was Sapp, thanking his mom and family, all that love.

This was Sapp, praising Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, who wore No. 99 Sapp hats.

This was Sapp, tears flowing near the end, thanking his ex-wife, Jamiko.

His induction speech lasted a little more than 11 minutes, the second shortest of the evening.

Maybe should have acknowledged a few more people before he stopped.

Or maybe, Warren Sapp, of all people, couldn't put it in words. Or, as he said:

"Because it's time for us to close the show and get the party going, because we here, baby, we here baby."

A party in a tent, in a place called Canton, far from a town called Plymouth.

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