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Martin Fennelly Columns

Sapp touched by permanence of Hall moment

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Published:   |   Updated: August 3, 2013 at 05:28 PM

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CANTON, Ohio - "You know I'm a kid in a candy store," he said. "All I ever wanted was to be around the greats of the game."

From the moment he climbed from a VIP bus in front of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was everywhere, smiling, shaking hands, playing around, snapping pictures like a tourist, hugging his new teammates.

Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend, officially joins the club tonight. He had never dreamed of this as a kid, but a kid he was, every bit of it, as he prepared to sit for a group photograph in front of the Hall, with more than a hundred Hall members. Jim Brown chatted with Barry Sanders. It was that kind of deal. You couldn't throw a football and not hit history.

For the shot, Sapp sat up front with the six other 2013 inductees. He sat next to fellow 2013 enshrinee Dave Robinson. They playfully locked legs, one over the other. The Hall does goofy things to big, tough men.

Sapp couldn't sit still. He raced over and found Steelers legend and fellow defensive tackle Joe Greene. Tony Dungy once told Sapp to chase Greene and his greatness, and that 99 did. The two men hugged. Sapp held up his phone and snapped a picture of himself and Mean Joe. Sapp introduced his daughter and presenter, Mercedes.

Sapp bent over, gently, to talk with Earl Campbell, who ran over everyone and anything as a star runner, but who was in a wheelchair Friday. Rough game, football. Tender, too, at least it was Friday at the Hall. Sapp seemed the chief cuddling bear.

The crowd behind the barricades serenaded Sapp.

War-ren ... War-ren ... War-ren ...

Sapp swayed side to side. It was like game day.

"Tell me about it," he said.

We haven't seen anything yet. Tonight, on a stage in the football stadium next door, he'll be joined by his daughter as they unveil his bronze bust, one built to last. Bronze, and history, will do that.

When Sapp toured the Hall in late March, someone there mentioned something about the bronze sculptures. It stuck to Sapp's ribs. It mesmerized him.

"I got this for you," Sapp said. "If I set my bust out on my front lawn on a coffee table, you know how long it will last with the elements, rain, if a hurricane comes through? Four thousand years. It would take 4,000 years for the bronze to decompose.

"You know that movie when Will Smith and his son crash back on Earth? They'd find our busts and go, 'They must have been gods - gods.' Sixty-thirteen! I'll be around until 6013!"

"We should have told him 10,000 years," a Hall official said. "I mean, how would he check it out?"

If there was an Olympic pinch-yourself team, Sapp would be captain right about now.

"I'm here," he said.

Not everyone is.

Sapp was asked if there was one Hall of Famer he wanted to talk with most of all.

"He's not here," he said.

Sapp was talking about David "Deacon" Jones, the fearsome Rams quarterback rusher - he even introduced the word "sack" to football. Jones died in early June at the age of 74. Sapp attended his memorial service.

Deacon Jones was larger than life, one of the leaders of the Hall of Famers, and he was Warren Sapp's friend. Jones was born in central Florida, in the town of Eatonville, hardly a 15-minute drive from Sapp's hometown of Plymouth.

"So Deacon was everything," Sapp said. "I was going to stand next to him in my gold jacket, a D-end and a D-tackle from Orange County," Sapp said. "What a picture."

They became friends years ago, after a TV taping.

"Me, him and Bruce Smith sat after that show and drank Bud Lights until 4 in the morning, last time I checked the clock," Sapp said.

"Let's just put it in Warren terms: Who else was going to talk trash with me? Deacon invented talking trash - and backing it up. ... I just wanted the chance to ask him if I was worthy. He was the only one."

Friday morning, after the Hall photographers and all the other cameras snapped off pictures of the assembled Hall of Famers, Sapp popped up to squeeze another shot on his phone. He did that like crazy. Right after, there was a reception and then a lunch: Hall of Famers in a room, them alone, doors shut, teasing and stories and maybe a lesson or two everywhere, Warren Sapp everywhere, too.

"You got Roger the Dodger, you got Troy Aikman, you've got the collection of the greatest quarterbacks ever," Sapp said. "Joe Namath - I'm grabbing on him. Jesus, it's everything I wanted."

He's here.

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