TAMPA — Warren Sapp's improbable journey from a dirt road in Plymouth, near Orlando, to the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, will be completed during his enshrinement ceremony Aug. 3.
"There will be two buses leaving from my mother's front door," Sapp said. "And listen to this. How wild are these numbers? George Halas Hall is 999 miles from the front door of my mama's house."
Sapp's No. 99 that he wore for the Bucs and Raiders was a fixture in the opponent's backfield during his 13 seasons. He was a member of the league's All-Decade teams for the 1990s and 2000s; defensive player of the year in '99; a Super Bowl XXXVII champion; and a seven-time Pro Bowl selection with 961/2 career sacks, second-most for a defensive tackle.
He will join Lee Roy Selmon as the only Bucs in the Hall. But they shouldn't have to wait long for company.
LB Derrick Brooks is eligible in 2014, and judging from discussions with many members of the selection committee, he is likely a first-ballot selection. Brooks was an 11-time Pro Bowl player and the defensive player of the year in 2002, when he led the Bucs to the Super Bowl victory over the Raiders. He also was a member of the All-Decade team for the 2000s.
Former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy also is eligible for the Hall in 2014. Dungy might not be a slam dunk to be elected on his first try, though his accomplishments seem worthy. He went 139-69 (a .668 winning percentage) in 13 seasons, had an NFL-record 10 straight playoff appearances and won Super Bowl XLI as a head coach. (He also was a player on the Steelers' Super Bowl XIII winning team).
Some voters might believe Dungy should've won more Super Bowls, particularly with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. But his overall contribution to the league might push him over the top. He was the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl.
And his success as a coach produced a stellar tree of minority head coaches that included Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin and Leslie Frazier. In a league that just had eight head coach and seven general manager openings and did not have one filled by a minority candidate, Dungy's influence can't be overlooked.
RING OF HONOR: Sapp, who should receive his Hall of Fame ring in a ceremony at Raymond James Stadium during the 2013 season, needs to also be immediately inducted into the team's Ring of Honor and his No. 99 retired. That should be followed closely by Brooks and Dungy.
I'M THINKING: These thoughts:
• Ronde Barber will return for a 17th season if the job and the money are right. Former Bucs coach Raheem Morris, Barber's close friend, told him to play until the wheels fall off. Barber's move to safety was a great one, and he showed no signs of slowing last season. We should know something by the beginning of March.
• The Bucs are perfect candidates to play in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio. Not only is Sapp being inducted a day earlier — and the team would benefit from the history lesson — but it would let coach Greg Schiano start training camp a week early and play a fifth preseason game. The Bucs have not played in the game since 1998.
• When Schiano's 24-man coaching staff was officially announced last week, I thought: That's a heck of a lot of coaches, nearly one for every two players on the 53-man roster. Also, nearly half of them coached with Schiano at Rutgers. The man has a certain way of doing things, and he might not be easy to work for. Also, linebackers coach Bob Fraser — from Rutgers — was promoted to assistant defensive coordinator. That's a title I'm not familiar with, and you wonder why it was necessary to have an assistant for coordinator Bill Sheridan. Incidentally, Fraser was replaced by Robb Smith from, wait for it, Rutgers.