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Former Buc Warren Sapp awaits word on Pro Football Hall of Fame

NEW ORLEANS — Warren Sapp had another man in his embrace, and just like during his playing career, the poor guy wasn't going anywhere until the former Bucs defensive tackle decided to let him go.

Shortly after being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility, Sapp was greeted on the set of the NFL Network program by linebacker Derrick Brooks. The teammates, who have known each other since playing together in a 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 Hall of Fame consideration next year. "You're next, I love you."

Sapp, 40, becomes only the second Buccaneer to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining late defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who was enshrined in 1995 after six years of eligibility.

"You think of everything," Sapp said of his election. "You think of everything that went on during my 13 years, the time I spent in Oakland. ... There were times I questioned myself on the football field. ... It's a long way from Plymouth, Florida and that dirt road."

Sapp was the last player announced Saturday for the Class of 2013, joining Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden, Cowboys guard Larry Allen, Vikings receiver Cris Carter, Giants Super Bowl coach Bill Parcells and senior candidates Dave Robinson and Curley Culp.

Sapp was credited with helping transform a Buccaneers franchise from unlovable losers to Super Bowl XXXVII champions during the prime of his 13 NFL seasons, which included four years with the Oakland Raiders.

So it was no surprise to see him blazing a path to the hallowed ground in Canton, Ohio, where he will be inducted during a ceremony August 3.

While Sapp arrived first among his Super Bowl champion teammates — as he did to the ball carrier on so many Sundays — he said he expects to be followed many of them in the near future.

"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," Sapp 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 '90's and 2000's, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999, was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times, and was the Bucs' all-time sack leader, finishing his career with 96.5 (77 with Tampa Bay) — the second-highest career total sacks for a defensive tackle.

Not unlike his career, however, Sapp had to overcome a few obstacles that threatened to block his path to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Sapp 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 more than eight hours of debate, the selection committee of primarily media members narrowed down the list of 15 finalists to 10: Sapp, Ogden, Strahan, Parcells, Larry Allen, Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Charles Haley and safety Aeneas Williams. It was the fourth time Parcells had been a finalist and was debated for 55 minutes Saturday.

Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., a long-time 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 told his 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. ... 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.

Sapp said he spent a nervous day with his children in New Orleans. He tried to call his colleagues he works with at the NFL Network — Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders — but they wouldn't answer.

Because the Pro Football Hall of Fame class is announced in alphabetical order, Sapp was called last.

Brooks said the only question he had was whether Sapp's bust in Canton would be bald or in braids as he was 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."

Former Buc Warren Sapp awaits word on Pro Football Hall of Fame 02/01/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 2, 2013 10:13pm]
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