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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014

Sapp becomes second Buc to reach Hall

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Published:   |   Updated: July 30, 2013 at 08:48 PM

Editor's note: Ira Kaufman is a voting member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 46-member Board of Selectors.

NEW ORLEANS - Shortly after becoming the newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Warren Sapp turned his thoughts to the potential Tampa Bay Buccaneer brigade coming up behind him.

The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who helped spearhead the rise of the Bucs from National Football League laughingstocks to Super Bowl champions was voted into the Class of 2013 on Saturday in his first year of eligibility.

After the live announcement on NFL Network, Sapp walked off the stage and into the arms of former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks for a long embrace.

"You're next, you're next," Sapp said between tears as the keys to the Tampa 2 defense that spread across the league shared an emotional hug.

Sapp joins the late defensive end Lee Roy Selmon as the only Hall of Fame players who spent the bulk of their careers in Tampa.

"This is a proud day for the Buccaneers organization and Bucs fans everywhere," Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer said. "Warren played the game with incredible ability and passion. He was a leader on one of the best defenses in NFL history and helped to redefine the defensive tackle position. It is a fitting honor that he will be recognized as one of the greatest to ever play, and we could not be happier for him."

Sapp said the Hall of Fame door is now open for his teammates.

"Brooks is next, with John Lynch behind him and Tony Dungy, too," Sapp said. "All of us. I get to talk about my guys now because I passed the test. We turned around that whole organization. It was a lot of work, but I had some good men with me and we believed. Nothing was going to stop us."

Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowler, will first be eligible for the Class of 2014, along with Dungy, who was hired as head coach in 1996 and quickly forged the Bucs into a perennial league power.

Lynch, a hard-hitting safety who earned nine Pro Bowl berths, made the list of 27 semifinalists for the Class of 2013 in his first year of eligibility.

He was eliminated when Hall of Fame voters reduced the field to a final 15 modern-era nominees.

"There's a teammate of mine in the Hall of Fame ... it hasn't hit me yet," said Brooks, who rushed to the Convention Center from another engagement to congratulate his long-time roommate on the road. "I hope his bust has a big smile because you can tell this is a dream come true for Warren."

Sapp played the first nine of his 13 NFL seasons in Tampa, where he stoked the crowd with his dynamic play.

"Buc fans were so great to me for so many years in that north end zone," said Sapp, who joined former coach Bill Parcells, wide receiver Cris Carter and offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden as modern-era candidates selected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The induction ceremony is slated for Aug. 3 at the Canton, Ohio, shrine of excellence, and Sapp already has tabbed his daughter, Mercedes, 15, to be his presenter.

"I am thrilled for Warren Sapp, the engine of the 4-3 defense," former Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "He's the most dominating inside presence I've been around. It's a great day for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."

Sapp became emotional several times during the NFL Network broadcast.

"My feet haven't touched the ground," he said. "I've been floating. I played a kid's game, got paid a king's ransom and had a ball at it. Now, I get my wings. I get to trade my yellow hanky for a yellow jacket."

Sapp was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL draft and played 140 games for the Bucs, registering 77 sacks, second in franchise history behind Selmon's 78. One year after helping the 2002 Bucs to a Super Bowl win, Sapp left for Oakland, playing his final four seasons with the Raiders.

Sapp's disruptive play up front was critical to the success of Tampa Bay's defensive scheme, which has been widely copied. His 96.5 career sacks rank second to Hall of Famer John Randle among interior linemen.

"For those 13 years, I did it my way, absolutely," Sapp said. "I walked it, talked it, played it, made myself accountable for it and here I am."

Sapp, now an analyst for NFL Network, had a frosty relationship with the media, which could have hurt him in Saturday's voting.

"It (character issues) was out there, but I think we've come to a time where I don't think the voters want to hear that bull anymore," Sapp said. "They want to put your resume up and let it stand."

Brooks, on the Hall of Fame clock for the first time, awaits the day he joins No. 99 in Canton.

"Getting in the first time around is special," Brooks said. "You look at guys like Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden today -- it's rare company. We'll see what the Lord has in store for me."

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