Sapp 'one humble, proud country boy,' enters Hall of Fame
Whether you loved him or loathed him on or off the football field, Warren Sapp made you pay attention.
The mouth that soared did it again during his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
“Talking trash and backing it up is just the way of my family,” Sapp said during his acceptance speech. “It’s just the way we’ve done it.”
Sapp, 40, recounted his story of growing up in a tiny house on a dirt road in Plymouth to becoming an all-state tight end at Apopka High then an All-America defensive tackle at Miami and, finally, the 12th overall pick of the Bucs in 1995.
He called his mother, Annie Roberts, his rock for working several jobs while making sure he got up each morning and went to school.
“I never played this game to get in the Hall of Fame,” Sapp said. “I played this game to retire my mother because my mother worked to the bone and I wasn’t going to allow her or myself to be in that position again.''
Sapp became only the second Buccaneers player in the Hall of Fame, joining defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, the first player selected by the expansion franchise in 1976. Selmon’s widow, Claybra, and son Lee Roy Selmon, Jr., attended the ceremony.
As Sapp’s turn arrived Saturday night, fans chanted, “Tampa ... Bay! Tampa ... Bay!” Sapp stood off-stage, twitching his neck and shoulders the way he did before player introductions at Raymond James Stadium.
Seated just a first down in front of him were Bucs co-chairmen Joel and Bryan Glazer as well as friends, teammates and coaches, including Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, John Lynch and general manager Mark Dominik.
Sapp was the next to last player from the Class of 2013 to be inducted during Saturday night’s ceremony, just ahead of the Vikings Cris Carter and behind Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden, Packers linebacker Dave Robinson, Cowboys offensive lineman Larry Allen, coach Bill Parcells and Kansas City and Houston defensive tackle Curley Culp.
Sapp was presented by his 15-year-old daughter, Mercedes, who said, “My dad is way more to me than a dad. He’s a best friend, a motivator, an inspiration.”
Sapp thanked the Glazer family, who purchased the Bucs in 1995, for taking a chance on him in the draft.
“On that April afternoon, it wasn’t fashionable to be with Warren Sapp. I sat (at the draft) for two hours and forty five minutes. They took me and they said, “We’re going to change this organization.”
Sapp’s credentials still are remarkable even by Hall of Fame standards. He was a member of the league’s All-Decade team for the 1990s and 2000s; Defensive Player of the Year in “99; Super Bowl champion; seven-time Pro Bowl selection; and his 96 1/2 sacks are the second-highest career total for a defensive tackle.
Along with players such as Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, Sapp was the centerpiece of a defense that helped transform a Buccaneers franchise from unlovable losers to Super Bowl XXXVII champions during the prime of his 13 NFL seasons, which included the final four years with the Oakland Raiders.
In fact, Sapp is only the fifth defensive tackle to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and the first since 1994, joining the Cowboys’ Bob Lilly and Randy White, the Rams’ Merlin Olson and the Steelers’ Joe Greene.
Sapp credited Dungy, who arrived in Tampa Bay in his second year, for much of his success.
“I played for a lot of coaches in my day,” Sapp said. “When I got to the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1995, it was 11 straight double digit losing seasons. If you don’t know what that means, its 10 losses or more. It was a lot of losing and lot of bad times. But a young man walked in the door and he showed us structure and a path and a vision how to get it done day in and day out.”
He thanked Gruden for holding the Bucs offense accountable and leading them to a Super Bowl XXXVII victory.
“Jon Gruden, they sent two draft picks and $8 million (to the Raiders),” he said. “I had to walk into this man’s office every day and see what this man was, and he was something special. Boy, it was so fun to watch that offense get yelled at like we got yelled at on defense.”
The Glazers chartered a plane and the Bucs were represented by a large contingent of the organization, fans and sponsors.
Sapp left a lasting mark, sometimes literally, on the opponents he faced.
“When you lined up against him,” Ogden said, “you knew you were playing one of the best to ever play the game.”
At times funny and loud, what came through in his speech is how proud he is of his roots, something he learned from his grandmother, Rosie Lykes.
“She said, 'Boy, don’t ever forget where you come from and I stand before you today, one humble, proud country boy from Plymouth, Florida. That’s right. The dirt. That dirt road was something rough, but sure turned it into something special.”
As Rich Eisen of the NFL Network noted, Sapp made it through 99 percent of his speech before breaking down, choking up only when he addressed his ex-wife, Jamiko Sapp.
“Baby, you held me up when nobody else would,” Sapp said. “I want to thank you. You were my backbone. All them nights you took care of me. And I want to say I love you and thank you.
“I love this game. I love the passion of it and I sit here with the greatest among the great or as Michael Irvin said the other day, the Bible of pro football because you get inspiration and gain strength.
“This game is so great, there’s nothing else I know and love that’s taken me from dirt road to goals I’d never seen and now to a gold jacket. Oh my goodness.”