Humbled Sapp arrives at the Hall of Fame: 'I'm home'
Warren Sapp visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame last March, touring the museum where his bust would one day reside among the game's best.
"I took a little sip because I knew I was coming back to get a full gulp,'' Sapp said Friday.
Sapp, 40, who will be formally inducted during an enshrinement ceremony Saturday, was still trying to drink it all in -- the photo session with 120 Hall of Famers, the Ray Nitschke luncheon where members spoke reverently to the Class of 2013, the formal banquet dinner where his 15-year-old daughter, Mercedes, will place the most famous yellow jacket in sports over his shoulders.
"It's more than anything I could've imagined,'' Sapp said Friday. "When you're sitting in the room, like Michael Irvin said, 'the Bible of Football.' I'm home. I'm a small town country boy and it feels just like home.''
"I actually took a picture of the Nichke Luncheon, too. I'm a fan of this game more than I am anything other than a player. I'm a kid in a candy store. I'm looking for Bob Lilly and all the tackles. I'm looking all the great ones. I'm going to take my pictures and go home and make me a scrapbook and flip it for years to come. This is my team now and I'm going to enjoy it. I've always been that way with my teammates.''
Sapp, only the fourth defensive tackle to earn election to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, bounced around like a drop of water on a hot skillet Friday. When the last group photograph was taken, at the first hint of movement, Sapp was on his feet and hunting quarterbacks.
He ran down Roger Staubach. He embraced Joe Namath. He corralled John Elway. He took out his cell phone and began filling the pages of his personal scrapbook.
"You want to see all my pictures? You know I'm a kid in a candy store,'' Sapp said. "This is all I ever wanted was to be around with the great ones in the game and they stamped me official. Well, not yet. They keep telling me you're not in yet. I've got to keep following the rules, I'm not in yet. I'm an inductee.''
As much as Sapp felt at home, other Hall of Famers were willing to roll out the welcome mat for him.
"I always said he and Bruce Smith were the hardest guys I ever had to play against,'' said Jets Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin. "He was so quick and so strong. Really, he was the Michael Jordan of defensive tackles.''
"He was the consummate three technique,'' said Bill Parcells, a member of Sapp's HOF class. "I'm happy for Warren. I think he's a good player.''
Sapp was asked the highlight of his career, which included seven Pro Bowls during the prime of his 13 NFL seasons, selection to All-Decade team for the 1990s and 2000s; Defensive Player of the Year in '99; Super Bowl champion.
"January 26th, 2003,'' Sapp said. "We brought a World Championship back to One Buc Place. It was just a woodshed. Nobody gave us a snow ball's chance in hell. we were the Yucks, remember?''
As much as anything, Sapp may be the biggest fan in the Hall of Fame. By Saturday, he will be joined in Canton by some of his biggest fans, teammates and coaches, a list that includes Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, co-chairmen Joel and Bryan Glazer and general manager Mark Dominik.
"(Mercedes) asked me to meet Jerry Rice!'' Sapp said laughing. "That's my old teammate. I walked up to Jerry and said, "I normally don't introduce men to my daughter. But you're Jerry Rice, so it's got to go down.''
Sapp will be the next-to-last player to be inducted Saturday night during the Hall of Fame ceremony. He says he will cry during the speech but hopes to make it through the first few minutes.
"I'll take it from a little dirt road in Plymouth, Florida,'' Sapp said. "Down the Ronald Reagan Expressway, back up that thing, across Alligator Alley up I-75 to Tampa,'' Sapp said. "You know where I'm going. Back across I-4 to the crib and then we're going to go from there. Then a shout out to my boys at Showtime and NFL Network...and there we go. We're going to ride this thing, baby.''
"I've been trying to imagine how everything would feel and I still haven't got there. My anticipation still ain't nowhere near it. It's not in the same hemisphere. It's crazy. It's crazy. I'm here.''