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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sapp reflective as emotional week ends

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Published:   |   Updated: August 5, 2013 at 07:29 AM

CANTON, Ohio - Despite partying into the wee hours, Warren Sapp was awake and animated Sunday as he participated in a lively roundtable discussion to cap "the greatest week'' of his life.

As a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2013, Sapp joined Bill Parcells, Cris Carter, Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Curley Culp and Dave Robinson at the Canton Civic Center, the same building that staged Friday night's memorable Gold Jacket dinner.

Former NFL coach Steve Mariucci, who works with Sapp as an NFL Network analyst, served as moderator for a free-wheeling 30-minute discussion of the weekend's events.

Sapp's 15-year-old daughter, Mercedes, who served as his presenter in Saturday's induction ceremony, was joined in the audience by 3,500 paying customers eager to eavesdrop on Hall of Fame anecdotes.

"When she was born, I was the first to hold her, feed her and change her,'' Sapp said of his teenage daughter. "I'm not afraid to cry in front of her or anyone else because this is wonderful. This is truly the greatest week of the 40 years I've been on this Earth and I wanted to share it with family.''

Proud of his University of Miami roots, Sapp was playful throughout the session, joking with Carter (Ohio State) and Robinson (Penn State) about the off-field troubles plaguing both football programs in recent years.

Carter and Robinson exchanged barbs and when it appeared Sapp was ready to weigh in again, Mariucci issued a warning:

"Sapp, don't say anything ... you're a Hurricane.''

Sapp was also the butt of Robinson's joke as the former Packers linebacker described his emotions Saturday night when he stood at the podium and realized page No. 5 was missing from his Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

"I started to panic,'' Robinson said. "Then I looked at Warren Sapp sweating and I knew I was OK.''

At 11 minutes, Sapp's speech was surprisingly brief, but that doesn't mean it was easy to deliver.

"When I saw there were only two guys left before my turn, my stomach rolled,'' Sapp said. "It was worse than game day. You know when you wake up in the morning and think you're late for work, then you get that cold sweat? I wouldn't want to do it again.''

Sapp's five days in Canton were unforgettable from the start.

Carter and Sapp played a round of golf early in the week and decided to celebrate their Hall of Fame induction in unorthodox style.

"We said we've got to put a little Canton grass in our mouth, so we decided to bend down and kiss the grass,'' Sapp said. "It's holy land.''

Each member of the Class of 2013 entertained family and guests in an individual party tent Saturday night and Sapp's shindig was just getting ramped up at 1 a.m., about the time an exhausted Parcells poured himself into a limo for the drive back to his room.

Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Bruce Smith stopped by Sapp's tent to offer congratulations and partake in the cold shrimp, pulled pork and fried chicken.

Ray Lewis and former Bucs teammates Ronde Barber, John Lynch and Dwight Smith shared hugs with Sapp, who also greeted Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and club co-chairmen Bryan, Ed and Joel Glazer.

It was easy to find Sapp's party tent, even if you didn't know the way from Fawcett Stadium.

Just follow the pulsating music.

On Sunday, Sapp was in a reflective mood as he talked about walking down a gauntlet of Hall of Fame players on the way to the stage before Mercedes placed a size-52 gold jacket around his massive shoulders.

Sapp said he maintained his composure ... up to a point.

"They were all welcoming me home, giving me a little love,'' Sapp said. "But somebody put my son at the end of the line and that got to me.''

Sunday's roundtable was informal, so Sapp showed up in a white shirt, sneakers, a Hall of Fame hat and a small towel in his back pocket to wipe away the sweat.

With Mercedes sitting behind him, hanging on every word, Sapp saluted his Hall of Fame presenter.

"She's always taking that big bear and turning him into a teddy,'' he said, tearing up.

ikaufman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7833

Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO

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