Former Buccaneers great Warren Sapp has been described in a number of ways over the years. Gruff, surly, combative on one hand, while also gregarious, funny and charming on the other.
There is no question Sapp is a man of many personalities.
On Saturday night, while being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Sapp reflected on his long road, from the tiny central Florida town of Plymouth, Florida, to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. And the fierce, complex mountain of a man showed off all of the mentioned adjectives – and then some.
“I stand before you today, one humble proud country boy from Plymouth, Florida,” Sapp said. “That dirt road was rough, but we sure turned it into something special.”
During his speech, Sapp started off thanking his family, and clearly his biggest hero and inspiration – his mother.
“Annie Roberts, I love you, you were my rock, my everything,” Sapp said, barely holding his emotions in check. “Watching you wake up every morning, and “Yeah boy, go to school,” on your way out of the door to work… and I might not see you for two more days, because you were at work that much. I was going to make sure I got myself to school, and got everything right that you wanted (me) to get done, because I was going to make you proud. That was my whole goal – to retire you.”
Sapp then turned his thanks to his brothers and sisters, mentioning each one by name and sharing his appreciation for them, and how they helped Sapp while growing up as the youngest of six children.
The Bucs all-time leading sacker then turned his attention to his football coaches from his youth and high school days, before sharing memories of his time at the University of Miami.
Sapp took time to talk about former Hurricanes coach Dennis Erickson.
“Coach Dennis Erickson, and all the University of Miami...the Canes,” Sapp said. “I want to thank Coach E (Erickson) for getting on a plane and flying up from Miami to Orlando, Florida and getting on (Highway) 441 and going north. And just like I told you coach, drive until it gets real dark, like you have gotten lost. And all of a sudden you are going to see a little flashing light, and it’s going to say Girls, Girls. It was just a little trucker stop. But I lived behind that trucker stop.
“Dennis Erickson and Greg Smith thank you for coming and getting the little country boy and showing him what life was about. Because I had never seen anything over a five-story building.”
Sapp continued thanking more members of family before recognizing his time as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, one in which put his name in the records books, and ultimately the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sapp was selected in the first round by Tampa Bay in 1995 (12th player overall) after dropping from an almost certain Top 5 selection due to character rumors that began a nearly three-hour freefall on draft day.
In 1995, his first season in Tampa Bay, the former Hurricane star was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team. Over his NFL career, Sapp amassed 96.5 career sacks, despite playing on the interior of the defensive line, and recording double-digit sack totals four times.
Sapp was named 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year after helping lead Tampa Bay to their first division title in 18 years. Sapp also recorded a career-high 16.5 sacks that season and was a first-team All-Pro four straight times (1999-2002). The former Hurricane star was selected to seven Pro Bowls and was named to NFL’s All-Decade Teams of the 1990s, 2000s.
Sapp’s attention soon turned to his time in Tampa Bay.
“Now out of college and on to the Glazers,” Sapp transitioned. “I want to thank Malcolm Glazer, the Glazer family, the Buccaneers organization. Because on that April afternoon, it wasn’t fashionable to be Warren Sapp. I was sitting there for two hours and forty-five minutes. But they took me and said we are going to change this organization.
“Derrick Brooks, you were with me that day. And without you dude, there is no way we turn it around. And I see you right beside him, (John) Lynch. You were the back end. The front, the back and the middle. My rocks that made it possible. And I thank you fellas.”
“I played for a lot of coaches in my day, but there are three I want to recognize today,” Sapp said. “Because when I got to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995, it was 11 straight double-digit losing seasons. A lot losing, and a lot of bad times.
“But a young man (Tony Dungy) walked through the door and he showed us structure, and a path and vision how to get it done day in and day out. I still remember it today coach – be a pro. And my watch still sits on Tony Dungy fast. I will never be late to a meeting.”
Sapp then went from Dungy to Jon Gruden, who led the Buccaneers to their only Super Bowl title after defeating the Oakland Raiders in 2002.
“Jon Gruden, they sent two draft picks and $8 million (for), so I had to walk in his office everyday and see what this man was,” Sapp said smiling. “And boy was he something special. He held that unit accountable for every snap and every yard they were going to lose, or whatever it was. And boy it was sure fun to watch that offense get yelled out like we used to get yelled at on defense. About time Keyshawn gets it!”
Sapp then went on to talk about his three-year run as an Oakland Raider, thanking former coach Art Shell. From there Sapp went back to talking about his mother.
“I never played this game to get into the Hall of Fame,” Sapp said. “I played this game to retire my mother, because my mother worked to the bone. 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 and I sit here amongst the greatest of the great, or as Michael Irvin said the other day – the Bible of football. Because you can read it, get inspiration, gain strength and look to tomorrow. This game is so great. There is nothing else I know and love that has taken me from a dirt road to heights I had never seen, to now – a gold jacket. Oh my goodness.”
As Sapp’s speech was winding down, the emotion of the event, and perhaps the significance of his career, finally caught up to No. 99.
“To my rock, Jamiko Sapp, my ex-wife, baby you held me up when nobody else would,” Sapp said with tears freely falling, and his voice cracking and quivering. “I want to thank you. You are my backbone. All the nights, you took care of me. And I want to say I love you and thank you.
"And for everybody else out there that I did forget – I love you, God Bless you and goodnight.”
The former Bucs great walked off the stage to a loud ovation, still a dichotomy of personalities, but regardless now a Hall of Famer, only the second in the history of the Buccaneers franchise along with Lee Roy Selmon.
Sapp dried his eyes, and slapped hands with the other 2013 inductees and probably pinched himself hoping that the road from Plymouth to Canton wasn’t just a dream that he would awaken from.
Have no fear Warren, you braided bust will reside in the halls of Canton long after you are gone. You legacy in the hearts of Bucs fans – and now safely secured in the annals of NFL history – will always tell your story, sharing your roots, from the dirt roads of Plymouth, Florida to Canton, Ohio.
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