On Friday, Warren Sapp was named one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2013. He is the first player who spent the majority of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make it to this stage of the Hall of Fame election process since Lee Roy Selmon in 1995.
The Hall of Fame Selection Committee will meet in New Orleans on Saturday, February 2 to cast the final vote for the Class of 2013. They will select at least two but no more than five enshrinees from that list of 15 modern-era finalists, and will also consider two "senior" candidates to potentially increase the class to seven members.
If Sapp is selected as part of the Class of 2013, he will join Selmon as the only two players in the Hall of Fame who identify with the Buccaneers. Sapp played the first nine of his 13 NFL seasons in Tampa Bay and was a key part of the franchise's 2002 Super Bowl championship team. Two other Hall of Famers spent a portion of their careers in Tampa: guard Randall McDaniel and quarterback Steve Young.
The modern-era finalists were chosen from a list of 27 semifinalists, which was announced in late November and was in itself a reduction from the original list of 127 people being considered for the Class of 2013. There were actually two former Buccaneers among the semifinalists, as safety John Lynch joined Sapp, his long-time teammate and fellow Super Bowl champion, on that list. Both Sapp and Lynch were first-year eligibles, and Lynch is sure to receive serious consideration again next year.
For now, however, it is Sapp who will attempt to carry the Buccaneer flag into the Hall and earn a bronze bust next to Selmon's. As a player who redefined the way the defensive tackle position is played, he is considered a very strong candidate.
The 12th overall selection in the 1995 NFL Draft, Sapp played in nine seasons for the Buccaneers and was a key part of the franchise's incredible turnaround in the second half of the decade. Sapp earned seven straight Pro Bowl berths from 1997-2003, helping the Bucs break a 15-year playoff drought in 1997. Tampa Bay went back to the postseason in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, making it to the NFC Championship Game in 1999 as Sapp captured the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award.
Sapp also earned first-team AP All-Pro honors four straight seasons, from 1999-2002, and in the last of those four years he helped lead the Buccaneers to victory over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. He later spent four seasons with the Raiders (2004-07), maintaining his high level of play long enough to be named to the NFL's All-Decade Teams for both the 1990s and the 2000s.
Providing backfield pressure rarely seen from a defensive tackle, Sapp was a linchpin in one of the most dominant defenses in league history. He recorded 77 of his 96.5 career sacks during his tenure with the Buccaneers, second in team history only to Selmon's 78.5. From 1996-2000, he put together one of the most dominant runs ever by a defensive tackle, averaging over 11 sacks per season. Those sack totals peaked in 2000 when he recorded a team-record 16.5 sacks. That followed his award-winning 1999 season in which he combined 12.5 sacks with 54 tackles, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Sapp forced 19 fumbles and also intercepted four passes during his career, and he even proved to be something of a weapon for the Buccaneers on offense in 2003. Occasionally lining up as a fullback or tight end (a position he played in high school), he caught four passes for 39 yards and two touchdowns that season.
Sapp was a force when the Buccaneers made it to the postseason, as well. He racked up 5.5 sacks in just nine career playoff games, including one in Super Bowl XXXVII to go along with a forced fumble and two passes defensed. He memorably dropped Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, his own personal foil, three times in a 1997 playoff contest at Lambeau Field.
The results of the Selection Committee's final meeting on February 2 will be announced at 5:30 p.m. ET during a one-hour NFL Network special, live from the Super Bowl Media Center. The committee will be choosing from the following list of 15 modern-era finalists (listed with their primary teams):
- G/T Larry Allen (Dallas)*
- RB Jerome Bettis (Pittsburgh)
- WR Tim Brown (Oakland)
- WR Cris Carter (Minnesota)
- Owner Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr. (San Francisco)
- LB/DE Kevin Greene (L.A. Rams)
- DE/LB Charles Haley (Dallas)
- Owner Art Modell (Cleveland/Baltimore)
- T Jonathan Ogden (Baltimore)*
- Coach Bill Parcells (N.Y. Giants)
- WR Andre Reed (Buffalo)
- DT Warren Sapp (Tampa Bay)*
- G Will Shields (Kansas City)
- DE Michael Strahan (N.Y. Giants)*
- CB/S Aeneas Williams (Arizona)
- First-year eligibles