TAMPA, Fla. — Passion. Personality. One of the best to play.
The wait wasn’t long for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp to be chosen for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and perhaps that’s the most fitting way to frame his colorful career.
Little about him lacked fire. Little about him was halfway. He was a 6-foot-2, 300-pound bulldozer who paved a path through offensive lines over 13 seasons, a trail that has now reached the hallowed halls in Canton, Ohio.
Sapp’s selection was a question of “when,” not “if.” His impact was too large and his legacy touched too many over nine seasons in a Bucs uniform. By Saturday night, when Sapp was named part of a seven-member Class of 2013 that will be enshrined in August, the questions were over for the first-year eligible nominee. There was no more debate.
“This is a proud day for the Buccaneers organization and Bucs fans everywhere,” Tampa Bay co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in a release. “Warren played the game with incredible ability and passion. He was a leader on one of the best defenses in NFL history and helped to redefine the defensive tackle position. It is a fitting honor that he will be recognized as one of the greatest to ever play, and we could not be happier for him.”
The numbers were there. Sapp earned 96.5 career sacks while redefining his position, recording double-digit totals in four seasons (in 1997, ’99, 2000 and ’06). He was a seven-time Pro Bowler, and he was named a first-team All-Pro four times.
The presence was there. He was part of a defense that changed the course of a previously wayward franchise. In each of his last seven seasons with the team, Tampa Bay’s unit ranked within the NFL’s top 10 and earned five top-five finishes. The Bucs’ 2002 title team produced one of the best single-season defensive efforts in recent memory, limiting regular-season foes to 12.3 points per game.
The brains were there. Former teammates described Sapp as cerebral and calculated, one of the most complete talents with whom they ever shared a field. He could motivate as well as inspire, as if he were a cross between a general and a professor.
The great ones elevate those around them, and Sapp served the role of a coach on the field, pushing others to levels not reached before. Perhaps his greatest work occurred in helping to lead the Bucs to their first division title in 18 years in 1999, when he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“He was a big part of turning them into a winner,” former Bucs coach Tony Dungy, who coached Sapp from 1996 to 2001, said earlier this week. “To me, it goes beyond what he did at the defensive tackle position and the impact he had on games. All of the sudden, once he was there in ’96, ’97, ’98 we could win. To me, that’s what Hall of Fame players do.”
Now, he is one. Consider the weight of the moment. Sapp was part of a strong first-year eligible finalist group, one that included two other members of the class of 2013: Guard/tackle Larry Allen and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. He becomes the second Tampa Bay player to receive a bronze bust in Canton, joining former defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, a class of 1995 member.
Like most, though, Sapp was complex. There’s little arguing that the big guy had an edge. There are stories of him refusing autograph requests and being brusque with reporters. Yes, he was admired among peers and rightfully praised for being a trailblazer, but he also had his controversial moments.
Yet Saturday was a time to recognize his full profile as a player, and it’s fitting how his wait to enter those esteemed doors in Canton was a matter of months, not years. After all, his career was spent at full speed. Sundays were lived with a goal of achieving the max in mind, of breaking through a ceiling of his making.
Consider it shattered. There was passion. There was plenty of personality. Now, there’s a proper title to go with it all: Hall of Famer.