Is Warren Sapp a first-ballot Hall of Famer? That's no simple question
With the Hall of Fame voting on tap for Saturday afternoon in New Orleans, this is the time of year you hear the term “first-ballot” Hall of Famer tossed around quite a bit.
The problem is there is no clear-cut definition. A first-ballot Hall of Famer is one who happens to be better than other candidates in his first year of eligibility. That means it's a very relative term.
I raise this point because of former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp’s candidacy. He’s a finalist in his first year of eligibility, but it’s not going to be a slam dunk for one of the finest defensive tackles in league history. This is a strong group of finalists, and Sapp has some significant competition.
When it comes to first-ballot selections, let’s look back at history. There have been 28 members selected in their first appearance on the ballot in the past 20 years. Only three were defensive linemen: Randy White, Reggie White and Bruce Smith.
It’s tough to argue how Sapp compares against those guys, but they’re obviously all-time greats, players who, for most, were no-brainers as first-ballot selections. Randy White played in three Super Bowls and was co-MVP of Super Bowl XII. Reggie White was a first-team All-Pro 10 times and was elected to 13 Pro Bowls. Smith holds the NFL career sack record with 200.
Warren Sapp probably holds his own against those guys, but his biggest problem is going to be the strong group of finalists which includes Michael Strahan, Bill Parcells, Cris Carter and Larry Allen. Only five modern-era candidates can be chosen.
Sapp will make it into the Hall of Fame at some point. But as for whether he’s worthy of first-ballot selection, perhaps it would help to look at 20 years’ worth of members selected in their first crack at Canton:
1993: Dan Fouts, Chuck Noll , Walter Payton
1994: Tony Dorsett, Randy White
1995: Steve Largent
1997: Don Shula
1998: Anthony Muñoz, Mike Singletary
1999: Eric Dickerson, Lawrence Taylor
2000: Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana
2001: Jackie Slater
2002: Jim Kelly
2003: Marcus Allen
2004: John Elway, Barry Sanders
2005: Dan Marino, Steve Young
2006: Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Reggie White
2007: Bruce Matthews
2008: Darrell Green
2009: Bruce Smith, Rod Woodson