Former UM standout Warren Sapp ready to join ‘elite company’ in Hall of Fame

Former University of Miami star Warren Sapp will join the NFL’s elite during Saturday night’s induction ceremony.

08/03/2013 12:01 AM

08/03/2013 12:10 AM

The names — a roll call of Miami football icons — are never far from Warren Sapp’s lips. Ted Hendricks. Michael Irvin. Jim Kelly. Cortez Kennedy. Jim Otto.

They’re the University of Miami’s representatives in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And the club is about to get a brash new member.

Sapp — the destructive pass rusher who would knock your quarterback out, wake him up, then tell him all about it — is about to join his fellow University of Miami brethren in immortality. He will be formally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, a first-ballot selection befitting his larger-than-life career.

“It’s elite company,” Sapp said last week, visiting Dolphins camp during his NFL Network tour of NFL cities. “It’s rare-air company.”

The same can be said about the group he goes in with. Sapp is one of seven legends set for induction Saturday, a class with a decidedly South Florida bent.

Bill Parcells, the polarizing former Dolphins vice president of football operations, goes in as a coach. The two-time Super Bowl champion led four teams to the playoffs during his career.

Parcells’ short stay in Miami included the franchise’s only playoff appearance in the past decade. But for many Dolphins fans, he will forever be the guy who bailed on the team after a little over two seasons, leaving behind a sub-.500 roster and a lame-duck coach. Parcells recently admitted he has regrets about the timing of his exit.

Joining him on the big stage Saturday is wide receiver Cris Carter, whose steady 16-year career ended with an unremarkable season in a Dolphins uniform.

Before that, however, the former Eagles and Vikings wideout tallied 10 or more touchdowns in a season six times and led the NFL in receiving touchdowns thrice.

Carter was voted into the Hall after being passed over the past five years. He still lives locally and is the wide receivers coach at St. Thomas Aquinas, where his son played. Sapp and Carter will be the last two to speak Saturday night.

It’s sure to be an emotional evening for Carter. He couldn’t even get through the first minute of his pre-induction news conference Friday without breaking down. Carter’s career was nearly derailed by drug and alcohol issues; the Eagles cut him after the 1989 season because he couldn’t stay clean. But he said Friday he hasn’t had a drink since Sept. 19, 1990.

“That’s when my life started getting better,” Carter said. “I was trying to not have a drink for one week. … And here I am, August, 2013, and I still haven’t had a drink. I could have been so many other things besides where I am now.”

Rounding out this year’s class are guard Larry Allen, defensive tackle Curley Culp, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Dave Robinson.

They will be the first class to enter the revamped Hall of Fame, which recently completed a $27 million facelift.

For Sapp, it might as well be a visit to Disney World. He says he’ll have the wide-eyed, mouth-agape wonder of a child — and has no plans to hide it.

“I’m going to cry like a baby,” said Sapp, who will be introduced by his teenage daughter, Mercedes. “Will have my towel out, try to fight the tears, hold them down, take a deep breath and keep going. You’re talking about the ultimate individual examination in the ultimate team sport.”

Hard as it may be to believe, it’s been more than two decades since Sapp, a central Florida native, first suited up for UM. After a sterling college career — he won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s best defensive player in 1994 — the in-state Buccaneers drafted him 12th overall to anchor their defensive line.

He spent 13 seasons in the NFL, tallying 96 1/2 career sacks for Tampa Bay and the Oakland Raiders.

Sapp was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and won a Super Bowl three years later. He was a member of the NFL’s all-decade team in the 1990s and 2000s, and was a first-team All-Pro in four consecutive seasons.

With that résumé, a first-ballot invitation to the Hall of Fame seemed a fait accompli. Last February’s vote made it official.

“I wasn’t racing to Canton,” Sapp said. “I never played one down and thought, ‘This is getting me to Ohio.’ I played for the respect and love of my teammates and the people I played against, the coaches.

“If you were coming against Warren, you better circle,” he continued. “Because if you didn’t, your quarterback was dying before two quarters are over. Period.”

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