TAMPA, Fla. – Love binds Lisa Lykes to a legend. Before Warren Sapp became a first-round pick, before the six All-Pro teams and the seven Pro Bowls, before his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was Warren Sapp: brother. And Lykes won’t let him forget it.
“I’m always texting him, ‘I love you,’ ” Lykes, Sapp’s sister, told FOX Sports Florida on Thursday at One Buc Place, shortly after Sapp was named a Bucs Ring of Honor inductee, “ ‘and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ ”
Lykes watched from the front row of an auditorium as Sapp gained another accolade. On Nov. 11, during a Monday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will honor the former defensive tackle by placing him into the ring, an honor only presented to four men to this point: defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, tight end Jimmie Giles, offensive tackle Paul Gruber and coach John McKay. That same night, Sapp’s No. 99 will be retired.
A man is the sum of his influences, and there’s plenty to account for with the 6-foot-2, 331-pound bruiser from Plymouth, Florida. In the room, there were faces from Sapp’s professional past – former coach Tony Dungy and former fullback Mike Alstott among them – but his personal influences enjoyed this afternoon in a special way. There wasn’t a shortage in pride.
“I really can’t explain it,” Sapp’s mother Annie Roberts, who raised him as a single parent, told FOX Sports Florida. “It’s just something (like) Pepsi-Cola, bubbling and bubbling. It has run over. It’s just wonderful.”
Roberts sat in a chair near the stage as Sapp made stops around the room after the presentation, his large and gregarious personality filling the space like it has so many others. She often worked three or four jobs to help raise a family of six kids. Sapp, the youngest, had his own approach to life then: He enjoyed playing Pac-Man, watching cartoons and following the Dallas Cowboys on Sundays. He was a normal kid – “kind of on the quiet side,” Lykes said – but he developed an uncommon commitment on the field that made him one of the game’s greats.
Drive was always part of Sapp’s profile, something that carried him throughout a 13-year NFL career. At times, Roberts asked Sapp, whom she called Carlos, his middle name, “Why are you doing this?”
“Momma,” Sapp would tell her, “I can do that.”
In time, that attitude made him one of the NFL’s best. The numbers lift him as one of his era’s most dangerous defensive forces: He started 188 of 198 career regular-season games and recorded 695 tackles, 96.5 sacks, 20 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries and four interceptions. His 77 sacks with the Bucs are the second-most in franchise history, behind Selmon’s 78.5.
Before he arrived, the Bucs had 12 consecutive seasons with at least 10 losses. By his third season, Tampa Bay won 10 games and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1982. By his eighth, they had won the Super Bowl.
“Watching my mother wake up every day and go to work, (working) more than one job. Raised on a dirt road, having to walk the maximum distance to the bus stop, and if you missed that bus, you’ve got to walk to school,” Sapp said about his upbringing.
“Trust me, if you go and pick enough oranges, buddy, you want out. You want out, I promise you. And I wanted out.”
Roberts knew her son could be special at Miami, and it was during his college years that she thought he could escape the orange groves for good and live an NFL dream. But other family members had heard about his desire much earlier.
Once, when Sapp was about 7 years old, he told uncle Asper Dawson, “I want to be a professional football player.”
“Are you sure about that?” Dawson said, recalling the scene Thursday from the auditorium.
“I’m going to be one of the best,” Sapp said then.
“You can be anything you want to be if you get your mind to it.”
“It’s a good, proud day for me,” Dawson said. “Very proud. There aren’t too many words I can say about it. It’s something that he always wanted to do – play football. And he always wanted to be the best, and so he made up his mind to be the best. I’m just real proud.”
The pride stayed with Lykes too. Before the Sunday memories, before the Hall of Fame career, there were heated games of football, kickball and basketball among the siblings near the house.
“He did the best,” Lykes said. “He gave you all that he could give. With me, my soul is satisfied that he’s satisfied.”