Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sapp's golden moment will last forever

CANTON, Ohio

Say this for Warren Sapp. The guy looks good in gold.

It was 10:14 on Friday night, a golden moment, when Sapp's daughter, Mercedes, slipped the golden sport coat — size 52 long — over her father's shoulders. Just like that, Sapp was in proper uniform again. Just like that, he was draped in the color of the grandest fraternity of them all.

He smiled as he shrugged on the coat as if it were the robe of a returning king, or perhaps the wings of a tarnished angel.

Maybe a tear slipped out — as if that should surprise anyone, because Sapp says he has wept every day since his election to this Hall of Fame — and he glanced at his vestment in open admiration.

The coat does it for a lot of players. The mere act of putting it on in a room where the greatest players who have played the game are wearing it can be overwhelming. The bust is one thing, and the ring is another, but the sport coat is the first suggestion that an inductee is where he belongs. It is an iconic symbol, up there with the green jacket worn by Masters winners.

And now Sapp had one of his own.

It is odd. Sapp has never much cared for gold as a color. He still laughs about watching Tiger Woods play in a yellow shirt, and since then, he never has cared for the color.

But when the Hall of Fame sent him the jacket in the spring to try on, he kept it until the last possible moment before sending it back.

Sapp had tried to imagine the sport coat moment, the way he had tried to anticipate every moment of the weekend. And every moment, he said, has been bigger, grander, more wonderful than he thought it would be. He could not stop beaming. He could not stop crying. He could not stop remembering.

No wonder, then, how much he seemed to enjoy the Enshrinees' Gold Jacket Dinner. He had come wearing a silver-gray suit, which looked sharp enough as he walked through the old Hall of Famers across the floor of the Canton Civic Center. He tried to embrace them all, from Jim Brown to John Elway to Bob Griese to the rest of them. He took his time, savoring each step of the way. After all, this was his show.

He has always been a colorful guy, Sapp. Once, when it meant only misery, he wore orange. He started only eight games as a rookie, and he had only three sacks. Once he wore blood red, and it usually wasn't his blood. He helped his team to a Super Bowl title. Once, in January of 2003, he wore confetti on the most cherished night in Tampa Bay sports.

Now he was in gold, the color of treasure, of trophies, of memories. With the greats of the game watching, with his daughter beaming up at him, Sapp enjoyed one of those magical nights that lasts forever. Really, this time.

This was Sapp's moment, and in a way, it was Tampa Bay's. Together, they are linked in history.

It was Sapp along with Derrick Brooks and John Lynch and Ronde Barber and the rest of them who changed what football looked like in Tampa Bay. It was Sapp and his fierceness and his relentlessness and, yes, his nastiness who proclaimed that things were going to be different around here, and what ensued was as fine a defensive run as the NFL has seen.

"When I first came to Tampa, fans put bottles underneath our cars after the game," Sapp said. "I remember third downs. The quarterback would start to audible, and the crowd would get quiet like they were trying to hear him. Once we got it going, it was a madhouse. No one wanted to come to Tampa to play."

Oh, how magical it was. This is not Green Bay or Pittsburgh, franchises that have had several runs of excellence. This is Tampa Bay, where excellence visited for a few years and then moved on. What better way is there to treasure those times.

And so it is Sapp who is the first of that group to take his steps into immortality. Was he a nice guy? No. On the other hand, his was not a nice guy's profession. You do not wreck offensive lines with diplomacy. You do not intimidate quarterbacks with good manners.

It should be said that this weekend, Sapp has turned into a little boy again. He rattles off the names of the other Hall of Famers he has encountered. He tells stories. He seizes moments.

For instance, Friday, Sapp approached former Redskins linebacker Sam Huff, who was wearing a dated gold coat. When Sapp said he was envious, Huff answered simply: "You aren't old enough."

As it turned out, the Hall had one waiting for Sapp. He stood there, on the stage, the last 2013 Hall of Famer to be introduced, the last coat issued. The fans were cheering, and his daughter's arm was around him and his around her as they finally left the stage.

It was a sweet moment, a keeper of a memory. The stuff of dreams.

Turns out, it will last forever.

Like Sapp.

     
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