Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Former Buc Sapp can shout his status now

NEW ORLEANS

Carve this one with some attitude, guys. When the bust of Warren Sapp is created, no one should make it tame. Do not have it stare out into eternity with a placid little smile. Not for this guy. For Sapp, the bust that will accompany him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame should be snarling. The mouth should be wide open, the way it usually was. The eyes should be wide in full-blown rage. His expression should be slightly annoyed.

And the hair?

"It ought to be with the dreads," Sapp said, cackling. "Because when you saw that Sapp coming, you were in trouble."

Warren Sapp, the Bucs' bigger-than-life defensive tackle, became the second Bucs player to reach the Hall on Saturday night (joining the late Lee Roy Selmon). Of course he did. Who was going to tell him he didn't belong?

After a career that combined great play with an occasionally nasty attitude, after helping to turn the perennially wretched Bucs into one of the finest defenses of the era, Sapp reached the Hall in his first year of eligibility.

Think of Sapp as the first link between that tremendous Bucs defense and immortality. Soon, others will follow. Derrick Brooks. John Lynch. Tony Dungy. Ronde Barber. How is Canton, Ohio, going to keep any of them away?

And how is New Orleans going to contain Sapp?

Remember how Sapp used to dance following a sack? Remember how he used to celebrate for the crowd? This looked like that, times a thousand. Sapp was Roberto Benigni celebrating his Oscar. He called Brooks up on stage for a bear hug, and he scurried over here to do a television interview, and over there to do one for the radio.

He grinned. He dabbed at his eyes. He shook his head. He told the old stories. He embraced people. He slapped backs. He kept saying how his feet were not touching the ground. He stepped on a writer's toe which, in a way, seemed fitting.

The emotions of the moment were in control of him now. Sapp, the boisterous cartoon of a personality, the relentless defensive tackle, was immortal. He is 40 years old going on forever.

It was the perfect moment for an imperfect man. It is no secret that Sapp could be rude and distant during his playing days. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and not all of them were offensive guards.

So how should people remember Sapp?

"However they want," he said. "For 13 years, I did it my way. I walked it. I talked it. I played it. I confessed it. I made myself accountable for it."

There were those who wondered whether the voters, mostly media members, might hold that against Sapp. Yes, that would have said more about the voters than about Sapp, but voters are human, too.

"It was out there," Sapp admitted. "But I think we've come to a time when I don't think the voters want to hear that bull anymore. They want to put your resume up for what you did and let it stand.

"Yeah, I was ornery when I came to your town. No doubt. I was ornery sometimes when I went into my own locker room. It's who I was. But it all came out in the wash. I played a kid's game, and I was paid a king's ransom, and I had a blast doing it."

On the field, however, it has always been difficult to find flaws with Sapp. He was on two all-decade teams, for instance. He defined the under tackle position.

Also, he helped to change a culture.

People tend to forget what a mess the Bucs' franchise was when Sapp showed up. It was as if Selmon had taken the greatness with him when he retired.

By the time Sapp showed up, the team had double-digit losses for 14 straight years, and in those days, rookies were as disposable as leaky pens. It was Sapp, along with Brooks and Lynch and Hardy Nickerson and Dungy, who changed things. Suddenly, the Bucs were measured by the fierceness of their defenses.

"I remember everything," Sapp said. "Everything."

Today, Tampa Bay should remember everything, too. The time he knocked Jerry Rice out of a game. The time he leveled Chad Clifton on a brutal hit. The way he would spit chewing tobacco into a white towel while answering questions. The way he kept his teammates from taping Martin Gramatica to the goalposts because "he's our only points."

There has rarely been a force like Sapp. He was funny, sour, moody, happy, short, angry, boisterous. Everything about him was oversized, from his talent to his personality.

Most of all, he was a ballplayer. There are few defensive tackles that have gotten off the line of scrimmage with the burst or the power of Sapp.

Ask Larry Allen, the former Dallas guard who entered the Hall Saturday night as well. Allen was a player that most defenders feared. But not Sapp.

"I'll be happy to make popcorn and watch films with you anytime," Sapp said. "I loved to play against the best. The last time I played against Larry, I had two sacks. Ask him."

Sapp smiled again. He winked.

He had some moments. He won some games. For a while, he was the face that the rest of the nation knew as Tampa Bay's.

Now, he is immortal. He has been validated as one of the finest defenders the league has seen. He has joined Selmon in the Hall.

"It's (No.) 63 and 99," Sapp said. "Soon, there will be 55 (Brooks)."

Sapp laughed again, long and loud.

Eternal, too.

     
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