Warren Sapp was always a bit larger than life during his nine years as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Big plays, big personality, huge impact. He wore the highest uniform number a player can wear and took his team to the NFL's highest peak. Raymond James Stadium rocked when #99 was in full motor.
On November 11, under the intense spotlight of Monday Night Football, that name and that number will be immortalized on the same stadium's façade as he becomes the fifth person inducted into the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor. Fittingly, "SAPP 99" will be boldly exhibited in letters and numerals three feet high, joining those of Lee Roy Selmon, John McKay, Jimmie Giles and Paul Gruber. Sapp made an indelible mark on not only the Buccaneers but the entire NFL during his 13-year career, and now his name will be permanently on display for future generations of Tampa Bay fans and foes alike.
There are other deserving Ring of Honor candidates from the first four decades of Buccaneer football, some of whom will one day join Sapp in that exclusive club. However, following the news in February that Sapp has become the first and only first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame selection in franchise history (so far), there was simply no other choice for this year's Ring inductee. Ushering Sapp into the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium not only pays homage to one of the franchise's all-time great contributors but also recognizes an enormous milestone in Buccaneer history. Sapp will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on Saturday, August 3.
The Buccaneers announced the selection of Warren Sapp as the next member of the Ring of Honor during a press conference at team headquarters on Thursday. It was also revealed that the ceremony will take place during halftime of Tampa Bay's game against Miami in Week 10 of the 2013 regular season.
The Ring of Honor, which was introduced in 2009 with the original selection of Lee Roy Selmon, now includes five of the most impactful figures in franchise history. Selmon and Sapp are the only two players in the Hall of Fame who are primarily identified as Buccaneers; Selmon was elected in 1995 in his fifth year of eligibility. John McKay (2010 inductee) was the team's first head coach and his nine-year tenure at the helm was marked by unexpectedly quick success for the expansion franchise as well as his unforgettable witticisms. Jimmie Giles (2011) was a game-changing pioneer at the tight end position and the Buccaneers' first true offensive star. Paul Gruber (2012) is not only the consensus choice as the best offensive lineman in franchise history but also the consummate leader and professional and an iron-willed example for future Buccaneers.
Now Sapp adds his considerable resume to that accomplished group of men. The same list of accomplishments and influences on the game of football that persuaded Hall of Fame voters to pluck him from an extremely deep field of candidates in February make the former defensive tackle an obvious choice for the Ring of Honor.
Sapp went to seven Pro Bowls during his nine years as a Buccaneer, second in franchise history only to Derrick Brooks' 11. After finishing his career with four productive seasons in Oakland, he retired after the 2007 campaign, but his name remains a constant part of the NFL discussion, often as a point of comparison for the newest emerging star at the DT position. As the Captain's Blog said in its stump speech before the final Hall vote this year, Sapp "changed the game, redefined a position, rejuvenated a franchise and made his own name a lasting part of the NFL lexicon."
A first-round pick in 1995, Sapp saw his career take off in his second season when Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin arrived with the soon-to-be-famous Tampa Two defense. As the pivotal "three-technique" DT in that defense Sapp didn't just clog the middle while the ends chased the quarterback; he collapsed the line, or simply shot through it, providing unceasing pressure up the middle.
After a three-sack rookie season, Sapp exploded with nine in 1996 and then topped double digits in three of the next four seasons. That was virtually unheard of from the defensive tackle position at the time, and it was perhaps the key reason the Buccaneers began a run of defensive success that is almost unmatched in NFL history. After improving from 27th in 1995 to 11th in '96, Tampa Bay's defense would finish in the top nine in each of Sapp's last seven seasons with the club, including five top-five rankings.
Sapp finished his career with 96.5 sacks, second all-time to fellow Hall of Famer John Randle (Class of 2010) among interior defensive linemen. His 16.5 sacks in 2000, a Buccaneer franchise record, are the third most in a single season by a DT. He hit double digits in a season four different times; only Randle did it more among tackles, with seven. To round out his stats, Sapp also recorded 19 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries and four interceptions. He played in 198 games, starting 188.
Those efforts resulted in a room full of awards. In addition to those seven Pro Bowl selections, he was a first-team Associated Press All-Pro four times, a more exclusive honor than the all-star game, and a second-team choice in two other seasons. He was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 after leading the Buccaneers to the NFC Championship Game on a team with the league's 28th-ranked offense. No defensive tackle has won that award since. He is a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s…and the 2000s. That certainly speaks to the sustained impact of his career.
And, of course, Sapp has a Super Bowl ring. Dozens of his former teammates do, too, and that probably would not have been possible without that game-changing force at the middle of one of the best defenses in NFL history. That ring make Sapp one of only six players in league history who have won a Super Bowl, won a Defensive Player of the Year award and been selected to seven straight Pro Bowls. That list reads like a who's-who of unforgettable NFL names: Warren Sapp, Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Green, Jack Lambert and Derrick Brooks, who is almost surely on his way there, too.
On Thursday, it was revealed that Sapp would join another very exclusive group: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ring of Honor. There was no better choice in 2013.