Super Bowl Sunday is annually the most anticipated day on the national sports landscape. This year, however, it was the Saturday before the big game that will live on as a landmark moment in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that former Buccaneer great Warren Sapp has been chosen for induction into the Hall as part of the Class of 2013. Sapp will join the late Lee Roy Selmon as the two players in the Hall of Fame who spent the majority of their careers with the Buccaneers.
"This is a proud day for the Buccaneers organization and Bucs fans everywhere," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer. "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 Hall of Fame Selection Committee met on Saturday at the site of Super Bowl XLVII in order to choose this year's class from among the 15 modern-era finalists. Sapp will share the Class of 2013 with four other modern-era selections – Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden and Bill Parcells – as the committee selected the maximum number of modern-era inductees that is allowed in a single year. Curley Culp and Dave Robinson will also be a part of the Class of 2013 as additional selections made by the Hall's Seniors Committee.
Warren Sapp will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame on during a ceremony in Canton, Ohio on Saturday, August 3. That falls almost exactly 18 years after the Hall welcomed Selmon as its first Buccaneer enshrinee in the summer of 1995. Coincidentally, and fittingly, Sapp began his playing career with the Buccaneers just one week later. Sapp will receive the traditional Gold Jacket at an enshrinees' dinner the night before, and will then see his bronze bust added to the Hall on Saturday.
Saturday's announcement adds the highest honor an NFL player can receive to what was already an unforgettable career. Despite sharing the finalist table with an incredibly strong group of candidates – including his fellow Class of 2013 members and such standouts as Jerome Bettis, Charles Haley, Michael Strahan, Kevin Greene and Aeneas Williams – Sapp was recognized for the incredible impact he had on the game during his 13-year career. Considered one of the greatest defensive tackles in NFL history, Sapp helped revolutionize the role of his position and at the same time played an enormous role in rejuvenating the Buccaneers franchise.
The 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a member of Tampa Bay's 2002 Super Bowl-winning squad, Sapp is one of only six players in league history to record both of those accomplishments and be named to seven or more consecutive Pro Bowls. He is now the fifth member of that elite group to enter the Hall of Fame, joining Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Greene and Jack Lambert. The sixth member of that group is Sapp's former Buccaneer teammate, Derrick Brooks, who will become eligible for enshrinement next year. Amazingly, Tampa Bay selected both Sapp and Brooks in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft, kick-starting the franchise's stunning turnaround in the next few years.
Though the strength of this year's field of candidates was a concern for all of those hoping for enshrinement, there was little doubt that Sapp was worthy of joining the game's all-time legends. He was, after all, a member of the NFL's All-Decade Teams for both the 1990s and the 2000s. He earned four first-team Associated Press All-Pro honors and was a second-team selection on two other occasions. Among all interior defensive linemen in league annals, Sapp is second only to Hall of Famer John Randle in terms of career sacks (96.5) and double-digit sack seasons (four). He set the Buccaneers' single-season record in 2000 with 16.5 sacks, the third-highest total ever recorded by a defensive tackle. He averaged 11 sacks a season from 1996-2000, stunning pass-rush production from an interior lineman.
Sapp was also a force against the run, and the linchpin of a Buccaneer defense that ranks among the best in NFL history. In each of his last seven seasons with the team, Sapp would help the Buccaneers' defense rank among the NFL's top 10, including five top-five rankings. Tampa Bay's 2002 title-winning squad turned in one of the best single-season defensive performances ever, limiting its regular-season opponents to 12.3 points per game and then scoring a record three touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXVII.
And, like many true NFL greats, Sapp's impact continued on beyond his retirement in 2008. As new potential stars at the defensive tackle position emerge every few years, each is invariably referred to as "the next Warren Sapp."
For the Buccaneers, "the next Warren Sapp" could be Derrick Brooks, or John Lynch or Ronde Barber or several others. Saturday's announcement was the ultimate individual honor for Sapp, but it is also one of the most significant occasions in Buccaneer franchise history. Not only has the team doubled its representation in the Hall of Fame, but the respect shown to Sapp's accomplishment could signal that additional standouts from the Buccaneers' most recent era of success will be recognized in the same way. Lynch, in fact, was one of 27 semi-finalists for this year's class, and Brooks will be eligible for consideration next year. Barber, who was still playing this past fall and may elect to continue his career in 2013, won't become eligible until he has been out of the game for five years.
Hopefully, the bronze busts of Selmon and now Sapp will gain further Buccaneer company in the years to come. This year, however, belongs to Sapp, who unquestionably was one of the greatest players ever to put on a Tampa Bay uniform, and who is now officially and eternally included among the NFL's all-time legends.