I never played this game to get into the Hall of Fame, I played this game to retire my mother.
– Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Warren Sapp
Warren Sapp made his career out of talking trash and backing it up. He was a man who brought pride into every down he played from the first time he put on pads, to his last snap in the NFL. It was that pride that motivated him; he thought he was the baddest man on the planet when he put on that helmet. But on Saturday, at his Hall of Fame introduction ceremony, the country boy from Plymouth, Florida was anything but self-centered.
In the 1995 NFL Draft — after their 12th straight losing season — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Warren Sapp with the 12th pick of the first round. This would turn out to be one of the most iconic drafts in Buccaneers history as it was the first draft following the Glazer family’s purchase of the team. Following Sapp’s selection, it only took the Buccaneers three years to reach the post season, and for the next seven years, Tampa did not endure a losing season, making the playoffs six out of those seven years and winning Super Bowl XXXVII in the process. During his Ring of Honor speech, Sapp recalled a moment during his first season when the Bucs were 1-8. He and Derrick Brooks were both laying in their beds watching ESPN and Chris Berman called them “the Yucks”, to which Sapp replied, “Brooks, that will be the last time they disrespect us.” In his first three seasons, Sapp averaged 7.5 sacks per year. He, along with Brooks, became an anchor for a defensive culture that would eventually lead the Buccaneers to Pro Football’s greatest achievement.
Every day that you play this game, you play it one day at a time, one play at a time.
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers first round pick, Warren Sapp
Going into the prime of his career Warren would use a challenge given to him by head coach Tony Dungy as his motivation: “chase Joe Green”. 10 straight Pro Bowls, 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards and 4 World Championships was the challenge Warren was given, to which he replied, “Whoa, that’s a lot of work!” Work is what it would take, and work is exactly was resulted from the challenge.
Under Dungy’s tenure (1996-2001), Sapp accumulated 61.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and 214 tackles while attending 5 straight Pro Bowls and earning a Defensive Player of the Year award in 1999.
I played for a lot of coaches in my day…. But a young man walked in the door, Tony Dungy, and he showed us structure, and a path, and a vision how to get it day in and day out. I still remember it today: Be a Pro
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers seven-time Pro Bowler, Warren Sapp
But in 2002, the Bucs decided it would take more than defense to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Under new coach Jon Gruden, Sapp found a new level of discipline. Even in his 30’s, Sapp accumulated 12.5 sacks, 76 tackles and 3 forced fumbles over two seasons. Though Gruden was an offensive-minded perfectionist, Sapp continued to lead the 2002 Buccaneers defense all the way to the number one defensive ranking in the NFL.
Sapp’s journey as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers player came to an end in 2003, but his impact on the franchise was far from over.
Earlier this year, Sapp was inducted into Tampa’s Ring of Honor; he will join Lee Roy Selmon, John McKay, Jimmie Giles and Paul Gruber. During his nine seasons in Tampa, he only missed four out of 144 games. He also racked up 77 sacks, which is 2nd in franchise history behind only Lee Roy Selmon himself.
To have your name up there beside Coca-Cola and Hess will be pretty good (laughs). I mean I’m sitting here thinking the bowl games that come through, the monster truck events, and ‘Sapp’ is gonna be on the wall!
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor Inductee, Warren Sapp
On Saturday, Sapp could have recapped all of his accolades — heck, he could have said just some of them and simply walked off stage to an ovation — but he didn’t. Instead, Sapp took 11 minutes and 29 seconds to thank every person that got him to the stage he stood on. He started off at his humble beginnings, thanking his family for the way they raised him, and not just his mother, but his sisters and brothers (even though all of them were not present). Sapp went down the list from college to the Pros and attempted to express a love and appreciation that, at times, no words could justify.
Warren knows that he was a handful at times — some would say uncoachable, or not worth the time to teach — but he knows the man he is today is a testament to the people who chose to invest some of their own lives into his becoming great. For a man who built so much of his renown on his confidence, pride and even self-centered motives to humble himself on his biggest stage yet was a special moment to watch.
Warren Sapp has had his low moments as a player and as a person, but what you cannot deny was the fight in his soul to get back up. Sapp was and is a man who went to work every day for the name on the front of his jersey just as much as he did for the name on the back. Saturday night was a proud moment for the NFL. It was a proud moment for the Sapp family, and it was a proud moment for the place Warren will always call home (Tampa).
Tampa was a place they said where careers came to die. That’s a lie, Tampa is a destination; Tampa is a place where Champions live, and we all did it together, no doubt about it. From the ugly Orange to that beautiful Pewter. I wouldn’t trade a day in any other uniform in any other place in the world. Tampa’s my home, and I love it.
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Famer, Warren Sapp