Sapp elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame
NEW ORLEANS – Relentless as a player, Warren Sapp was not shy letting opposing NFL offensive linemen know they were going to be in for a long day. He also wasn’t going to be denied.
So it was probably appropriate that after more than eight hours of deliberation by a selection committee of 43 voters Saturday, nothing could block Sapp’s path to his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sapp was among the Pro Football Hall of Fame class for 2013 announced Saturday at Super Bowl XLVII, joining Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden, Cowboys guard Larry Allen, Vikings receiver Cris Carter, Giants Super Bowl coach Bill Parcells and senior candidates Dave Robinson and Curley Culp.
"I told you, my feet haven't touched the ground in about 30 minutes,'' Sapp said during the Hall of Fame announcement ceremony televised on the NFL Network. "This is unbelievable. We play the ultimate team sport and this is the ultimate examination of an individual. But there's nothing I could do without my teammates, without (Derrick) Brooks, (John) Lynch, Ronde (Barbrer) -- all that Tampa 2 you guys like to talk about. This is very unsettling because I love my guys.
"As a defense, you're only as strong as your weakest link and without them boys, I wouldn't be sitting up here. I know that.''
After the ceremony, Sapp was greeted on stage by Brooks and the teammates, who have known each other since playing in a high school all-star game more than two decades ago, shared a tearful embrace for about 45 seconds.
"I love you, you're next!' Sapp repeated to Brooks four times.
I'm so happy for him,'' said Brooks, who is eligible for the HOF next year. "Words can't explain it.''
Sapp, 40, becomes only the second Bucs player to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who was enshrined in 1995 after six years of eligibility. Sapp’s accomplishments were just too impressive for the selection committee to ignore, making him a first ballot choice normally reserved for only the most dominant players in the Hall of Fame.
Sapp was a member of the league’s all-decade team for the ‘90’s and 2000’s; Defensive Player of the Year in ‘99; Super Bowl XXXVII champion; seven-time Pro Bowl selection; Bucs all-time sack leader with 96.5 in his career in 13 seasons – the second-highest career total sacks for a defensive tackle.
Not unlike his career, Sapp had to overcome a few obstacles that threatened to block his path to Canton, Ohio in his first year of eligibility. Sapp was part of an unusually strong class of first-time eligible players, a list that included Allen, Ogden and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan.
Brooks said he worried that some voters might focus on some of Sapp's locker room outbursts and on-field bombast and not his play and told his teammate exactly that during lunch Wednesday.
"Yeah, I was ornery when I came to your town,'' Sapp said. "No doubt about it. I was ornery sometimes when I walked into my own locker room. It was what it was. Hey, sometimes, I was a little ornery. But it all came out in the wash. There was no hatred in my heart. I played a kids game, I got paid a kings ransom and had a ball at it.''
After a long day of debate, the selection committee narrowed down the list of 15 finalists to 10: Sapp, Ogden, Strahan, Parcells, Larry Allen, Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Charles Haley and safety Aeneas Williams. It was the fourth time Parcells had been a finalist and was debated for 55 minutes Saturday.
Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., a long-time Tampa resident, and former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell did not make the final 10.
Sapp, the former Apopka High star was in New Orleans Sunday working as an analyst for the NFL Network.
Sapp was the 12th overall pick of the Bucs in 1995 after an All America career at the University of Miami. Three years later, he signed a six-year, $36-million contract, at the time, the richest in team history. In 2002, Sapp was the anchor to the NFL’s top-rated defense that intercepted Raiders quarterback five times in a 48-21 win over the Oakland Raiders. Sapp had five tackles and two sacks during the 2002-2003 postseason. In 2004, he signed with the Oakland Raiders, where he played for four more seasons before retiring.