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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hall mates welcome Sapp with open arms

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Published:   |   Updated: August 3, 2013 at 12:39 AM

CANTON, Ohio - He belongs.

With former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp set for formal induction tonight into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that was the message Friday from the 121 Hall of Famers gathered to celebrate the football shrine's 50th anniversary. And it was reiterated by his peers from the Class of 2013.

Sapp belongs.

"Warren, in my view, had the most unique talent of any defensive tackle with his speed, quickness, power and mental capacity to pull all those talents together,'' former Steelers defensive tackle Joe Greene said.

"He could power through anybody. He would scare the offensive lineman who was in front of him. He would scare the quarterback.''

Powerful words.

Especially when you consider coach Tony Dungy's arrival with the Bucs in 1996. That's when Dungy laid out the long-term plan, saying if Sapp patterned himself after Greene, he would become a perennial Pro Bowler.

"I paid Tony to say that,'' Greene said with a laugh.

Then Mean Joe got serious.

"Warren Sapp was a lot quicker, a lot faster, more sudden than I was,'' Greene said. "His application was the same as me. But he was . I think . better. And he was going to win, regardless of the competition. I loved his mindset, loved it.''

Former Patriots and Jets running back Curtis Martin, who was inducted last year at Canton, said he was thrilled by Sapp's selection.

"There were times when I'd be with guys and we'd pick our all-time teams,'' Martin said. "Warren Sapp was always my nose guard. He and (former Buffalo Bills defensive lineman) Bruce Smith are the toughest I ever played against.''

"I'm just glad I didn't have to prepare for Warren,'' said former Raiders coach John Madden, who was a TV analyst during Sapp's tenure. "He would've been a nightmare to prepare for. I enjoyed watching him from the booth. I have a lot of respect for the way he played this game.''

Those thoughts were echoed by former Eagles and Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter, who joins Sapp in the Hall of Fame's Class of 2013.

"Sapp is a real ballplayer and he has respect for other real ballplayers,'' Carter said.

"He's a man's man. He's not asking for a handout. The man plays hard, comes from nothing, prepares like crazy, brings it on every play. That's a football-playing dude, man.''

Sapp reminds Carter of a former Eagles teammate, the late Jerome Brown of Brooksville, another former Miami Hurricane.

"Jerome was the guy who first introduced me to Warren when he was a young player at Miami,'' Carter said. "I was hanging out with Warren (on Thursday night), watching TV, listening to music and we were both saying, 'Man, I wish Jerome was here.'

"Jerome and Warren, those are the kind of guys you want to go into battle with.''

Going into battle against Sapp? That was a different story.

"Warren was a handful,'' said former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who will also be inducted tonight. "You had to actually game-plan for that guy. My gosh, when he was working with Simeon Rice? Let's just say we had some difficult afternoons. We'd say, 'What are we going to do with this guy?'

"I love Warren. I enjoy him. When I look at him, I just start to chuckle. He's got a good heart. And he's a great player. He's definitely worthy of being here. He's one of the greats.''

In this era.

Maybe even in other eras.

"He probably could have lined up with us and fit right in,'' said former linebacker Dave Robinson, another inductee tonight, who played for Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. "You can tell he loves this game. You can tell he plays it the right way.''

"Warren Sapp is in a different fraternity now,'' said former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Bobby Bell, 73, who was inducted in 1983. "It's his turn, his time. If you played the game, you know who's good and who's really not. He's good. I like watching how he can disrupt things. I appreciate having him in our little fraternity.''

Sapp, no doubt, appreciates it, too.

"I'm in awe,'' Sapp said. "I love this game. I love looking through the history of this game.''

Now, Sapp is part of that history.

And there's an unmistakable message from his peers.

Sapp belongs.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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