Unique. That is one way to describe the seven new members of this year’s Hall of Fame class. Unique because this class includes an astonishing three first ballot Hall of Famers. Unique, because each of these members reflects different generations throughout NFL history. Unique because this class includes some of the biggest, strongest and wittiest men to ever play the game of football.
This year Warren Sapp brings his own uniqueness to Canton. He will have the first braided hair bust to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sapp sported the “cornrows” during his time in Tampa Bay and now the hairstyle is making its first appearance in the Hall of Fame. The early 2000’s style haircut was not the only reason Sapp stood out on the field. His humor and ability to talk to people was and still is a reason why fans and teammates adore him whether he was playing football or is analyzing the game on the NFL network.
Sapp was born and raised in Plymouth, Florida just outside of Orlando. Home is a place that Sapp will never forget, and during his enshrinement speech he shared a message that his grandmother was constantly voicing to him throughout his life.
“My grandmother said something to me a long time ago that I’ll never forget. She said, ‘boy, don’t ever forget where you come from.’ And I stand before you today, one humble, proud country boy from Plymouth, Florida.”
In high school Sapp seemingly played everywhere on the field, he played linebacker, tight end, place-kicker and punter. He held records for sacks, tackles for loss and longest field goal. His incredible athleticism created an easy transition into college where he attended the University of Miami to pursue his football career, but at a new position, defensive tackle. His junior year in 1994 was Sapp’s best season in college as he finished 6th in the Heisman voting and earned the Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, a spot as an Outland Trophy finalist, Football News Defensive Player of the Year, and BIG EAST Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Foregoing his senior season at the University of Miami, Sapp entered the draft in 1995 and was picked 12th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Getting drafted meant more than just signing a seven-figure contract and a chance at the Hall of Fame, for Sapp it was a opportunity at something far more noble.
“I never played this game to get in the Hall of Fame,” said Sapp, “I played this game to retire my mother, because my mother worked so hard, and I wasn’t going to allow her or myself to be in that position again. I love this game. I love the passion of it. I sit here with the greatest among the great.”
Prior to choosing Sapp in the 1995 draft, the Bucs had 11 straight double-digit loss seasons. With Sapp anchoring a new defense, the Bucs quickly emerged as a top contender in the NFL and in 2003 the team found themselves hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy after a dominating victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Ironically Sapp would end up playing for the Raiders during the last four seasons in the NFL. During his final years before retirement Sapp recalls interactions with younger players in the league such as when a Carolina special teams player approached Sapp and said, “Mr. Sapp I’ve been watching you since I was in high school.” That’s when he truly understood that the clock was striking midnight on his career.
“I got to get out of this game man, no way I was supposed to be told, ‘I’ve been watching you since junior high,” laughed Sapp while remembering the incident.
Although these types of interactions with younger players made Sapp feel like much more of an old man, he genuinely enjoyed sharing those moments with the kids in the NFL because it showed their appreciation for history of the game.
“I love that more than anything,” said Sapp, “because that lets me know that they have the same thing that I did, a reverence for the past.”
Sapp leaves football fans and future players with a career that will not be forgotten. He was selected to seven Pro Bowls, was named First-team All Pro four years in a row (1999-2002) and named to the NFL’s All-Decade Teams of the 1990s, 2000s.
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For more of our stories on the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 see below:
Their Proper Place: 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
Sharp Dressed Men; Hall of Fame Gold Jacket Dinner
Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Golden Anniversary
Memories: Pro Football Hall Of Fame Class of 2013, Larry Allen
Memories: Pro Football Hall Of Fame Class of 2013, Cris Carter
Memories: Pro Football Hall Of Fame Class of 2013, Curley Culp
Memories: Pro Football Hall Of Fame Class of 2013, Bill Parcells
Memories: Pro Football Hall Of Fame Class of 2013, Dave Robinson
Memories: Pro Football Hall Of Fame Class of 2013, Jonathan Ogden
Memories: Pro Football Hall Of Fame Class of 2013, Warren Sapp
Pro Players Hall of Fame Tribute Larry Allen
Pro Player Insiders’ Hall of Fame Tribute: Warren Sapp
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