NEW ORLEANS — Warren Sapp had another man in his embrace Saturday, and just like during his playing career, the poor guy wasn't going anywhere until the former Bucs defensive tackle decided to let go.
Shortly after being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Sapp was greeted on the set of the NFL Network program by former linebacker Derrick Brooks. The onetime Bucs teammates, who have known each other since playing together in a Florida high school all-star game more than two decades ago, shared a tearful bear hug for about 45 seconds.
"He said: 'You're next, man. I love you,' " said Brooks, who will be eligible for the Hall next year. " 'You're next, I love you. You're next, I love you. You're next, I love you.' "
Sapp, 40, becomes only the second Bucs player to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who was enshrined in 1995 after six years of eligibility. Sapp was the last player announced during the televised show for the Hall of Fame Class of 2013, joining Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden, Cowboys guard Larry Allen, Vikings receiver Cris Carter, Giants Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells and senior candidates Dave Robinson and Curley Culp.
Sapp, after a decorated college career at Miami, was credited with helping transform a Buccaneers franchise from unlovable losers to Super Bowl XXXVII champions during the prime of his 13 NFL seasons that also included the final four years with the Oakland Raiders.
So it was no surprise to see him blazing a path to the hallowed ground of the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where he will be inducted during a ceremony on Aug. 3.
While Sapp arrived first among his group of Bucs — as he did to the ballcarrier on so many Sundays — he said he expects to be followed by teammates and coaches.
"We went at it, we went out at it with a vigor and a love and a flavor that you just don't see every day," he said. "In that little shack (at One Buc Place) we went and did it.
"Brooks is next. (John) Lynch is right behind him. And Tony (Dungy), too. All of us."
Sapp 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.
But not unlike his career, Sapp had to overcome a few obstacles that threatened to block his Hall path in his first year of eligibility. The 12th overall pick of the Bucs in 1995 was part of an unusually strong class of first-time eligible players, a list that included Allen, Ogden and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan.
After a long day of debate, the selection committee narrowed the list of 15 finalists to 10: Sapp, Ogden, Strahan, Parcells, Allen, running back Jerome Bettis, Carter, receiver Andre Reed, defensive end Charles Haley and safety Aeneas Williams. It was the fourth time Parcells had been a finalist, and he was debated for nearly an hour on Saturday.
Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., a longtime Tampa resident, and former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell did not make the final 10.
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 he told his former 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."
In the end, 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 said Saturday that he spent a nervous day with his children in New Orleans. He tried to call his co-hosts he works with as an analyst for the NFL Network — Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders — but they wouldn't answer.
Because the Hall of Fame class is announced in alphabetical order, Sapp was called last.
"You think of everything," Sapp said. "You think of everything that went on during my 13 years, the time I spent in Oakland. Ninety-eight when I was a fat a- - and couldn't rush. There were times I questioned myself on the football field. … It's a long way from Plymouth, Fla. (near Orlando) and that dirt road."
Brooks said the only question he had was whether Sapp's bust in Canton would be bald or in braids as he wore his hair early in his career.
"Braids," Sapp said, "because when that Warren was coming, you had trouble."
Of course, legend has it that those busts talk to each other at night.
"I want to know who I'm beside," Sapp said. "And then I'll tell you about the conversation."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.