Anyone who watched defensive tackle Warren Sapp play football knows that he was far more than just about the numbers.
And the numbers were pretty damn good.
Sapp now takes his places amongst the great defensive tackles to ever play this game with his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 12th overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he would become part of a defense that made its mark in the league. And he was also part of a movement in Tampa to put the team on the championship map.
Remember, this was a franchise that lost an NFL record 26 straight games to open its history. Win No. 1 came in the team’s 27th game in 1977, a 33-14 triumph over the New Orleans Saints in which the Bucs’ defense scored three touchdowns that day.
Flash forward to 2002 and the Buccaneers’ 27th season in the National Football League. They would cap that campaign off with a 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII in which their defense would score (you guessed it) three touchdowns.
That’s what you call symmetry. And Sapp was right in the middle of it…literally.
Starting with his third season in the league in 1997, the former University of Miami star was named to the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls. His ability to penetrate and rush the passer up the middle of the field was something rarely seen. The athletic and exuberant Sapp totaled 77.0 sacks in his nine seasons with the Buccaneers and also intercepted two passes.
And for good measure, Sapp also caught four passes for 39 yards and a pair of touchdowns during his stay in Tampa. All of those catches came in his final season with the club in 2003.
Somewhat ironically, it was off to Oakland for Sapp and he spent the final four seasons of his career playing for the franchise he helped defeat for a championship just two years earlier. He totaled 19.5 sacks in 58 games with the Silver and Black (10.0 sacks in 2006), playing a somewhat different role in the team’s 3-4 defense.
It all added up to 96.5 sacks in 13 seasons. Sapp was also a member of the league’s All-Decade Teams of both the 1990s and 2000s and was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1999.
But even more importantly, he brought a playful but assertive attitude to a franchise in need of a new direction. Before his arrival in 1995, the Buccaneers had lost at least 10 games in each of their previous 12 seasons. In his nine years in Tampa, the team suffered through only three losing seasons, reached the playoffs five times and won the Super Bowl in 2002.
And when it was all said and done, the only number that really counted for Sapp was No. 1.
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