NEW ORLEANS -- Warren Sapp barged into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the same way he went through the Miami Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders.
“Great day!” the big popper from Apopka exulted as his name was called for the Canton, Ohio, shrine. “Great for Hurricanes! Great for Bucs! Great for Raiders! Hope everybody’s happy as I am!”
Well, maybe not that happy. But joy is unconfined just about everywhere he played, because the 6-3, 300-pounder left laughter and good will at all those stops.
I remember asking him at UM how he’d like to be remembered.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said with uncharacteristic modesty. “How do you think I’ll be remembered?”
“As the best defensive lineman Miami ever had?” I said, not being quite as sure as he was.
“That’s good, Ed!” he thundered. “Now will you write it just that way!”
It was an order, not a question, and I did just what he suggested, and that was just the first of a thousand tributes to his almost inhuman ability.
Mike Martz, the St. Louis Rams coach who often faced Sapp during his Bucs days, referred to his “almost inhuman ability as a pass-rusher.” Martz said there was simply no one like him, and so there wasn’t.
Sapp bullied offensive linemen from 1995 through 2003 with the Bucs and finished up with the Raiders from 2004 through ’07. He went out with 96 1/2 sacks and a reputation as a guy who couldn’t be blocked by one man — ever.
“Warren made as big an impact on the NFL as any player I could ever remember,” Martz said. “He was exactly what you are always looking for but so seldom find — a great inside pass-rusher.”
At risk of overdoing the man-animal metaphor, Sapp was simply a force of nature. Yes, he worked hard, very hard, but God simply made him faster and stronger and more agile than 99.9 percent of all the people who ever tried to play on the defensive line.
I don’t want to imply that Sapp ever simply got by on natural ability, but he had more than almost any defensive lineman I or just about anyone else ever saw.
After one game in which he toyed with several would-be blockers, I mentioned to him that those poor fellows were just overmatched.
“Don’t ever say that, man,” he said, holding a finger to his mouth. “I don’t want them to work on me any harder than they already are.”
They weren’t working on him. They were working at him. Sort of like chipping away with a tack hammer on a large granite building.
Somehow, he only once made NFL Player of the Year, in 1999. If a lot of offensive players had had their way, he would have won that voting just about every one of the 13 seasons he played.
Well, maybe not in 2007, when he was 34 and his legs and mighty trunk were finally going the way of all football flesh — meaning, down. But even then he could play. He quit only because of the constant pain and the anguish of all those days of losing 15 pounds in sweat alone.
He could have played longer. Now he won’t have to trouble himself about that. Starting next summer with his induction in Canton, Ohio, he will be forever remembered as one of the most remarkable forces in pro football history.