CANTON, Ohio (CBS Sports) -- Warren Sapp is an anomaly, and I'm not talking about
what he says or does on TV or social media. I'm talking about his
induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He's a first-ballot choice ... as a defensive tackle.
there's a queue at the position, with recent inductees like John Randle
and Cortez Kennedy put on call waiting. Randle broke through on his
second try as a finalist; Kennedy didn't get to Canton until his fourth,
and that's more the rule than the exception. Prior to Sapp, for
instance, only four defensive tackles -- Bob Lilly, Randy White, Merlin
Olsen and Joe Greene -- were inducted to the Hall in their first years
of eligibility ... but none after 1994.
See Also: Warren Sapp now with "the best of the best"
That's why Sapp's election is noteworthy. When he was up for election
in February, the choice figured to come down to him or Michael Strahan
-- with the smart money on Strahan. But Sapp pulled the upset, and
there's a reason: The guy was damned good at what he did, which was
dominate the line of scrimmage, and don't take it from me.
Listen to former Baltimore tackle Jonathan Ogden who joins Sapp in this year's class.
you lined up against him," he said at Thursday night's reception, "you
knew you were playing one of the best to ever play the game."
right there would qualify Sapp for enshrinement. But so does this: He
was the glue to a Tampa Bay defense that not only was one of the game's
best at the turn of the new century, but that launched the Bucs to their
first Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
don't remember Brad Johnson, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott or Keyshawn
Johnson from that team as much as they do the leaders of a defense that
smothered opponents, with Sapp at the head of the class.
rush the passer. He could control the line. He plugged holes. He
engulfed ballcarriers. Basically, he was the key piece to Monte Kiffin's
Tampa-2, the guy who made everyone around him -- Simeon Rice, Derrick
Brooks, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, everyone -- better.
But he was
more than a raging bull so accomplished at what he did that he was named
the league's Defensive Player of the Year. He was an oversized
personality, too, a big man with plenty to say ... and not all of it
"He could talk a good game, that's for sure," said Ogden. "But he
actually backed it up on the field. He's one of those guys you had to
game-plan for. [In Baltimore], we'd say, 'How do you deal with Number
99?' Whenever you have a defensive player you have to sit in a room for
10 minutes and devise a plan for, that's how you know a guy's a Hall of
"He could wreak havoc if you let him. We'd have to plan
how our guards and tackles would handle him on the field. He was that
good. I remember one game we played them, and he's supposed to line up
on the guard in a 'three-technique,' right? Well, for some reason, he'd
always line up way outside of me ... and Simeon Rice would be even
"So I said to him, 'What are you doing out here,
man?' And he said, 'This is just where I line up.' So he lines up
against me, and I poke him right in the ribs, and he kind of has this
look on his face like ... huh? (And I was like) 'Oh? Did I just do
"It was funny at the time. I know I did one of those
sneaky, lowdown, dirty moves, but I had to end up laughing about it. And
he laughed about it, too. He just told me, 'That's a good shot. Let's
keep playing.' "
And they did. They played and played and played
until they both made it the Hall on their first tries. Larry Allen made
it on his first try, too. But it took Bill Parcells four years as a
finalist before he cashed in; Cris Carter didn't make it until his sixth
year as a finalist. And Dave Robinson and Curley Culp had to wait three
to four decades before their names were called.
Most players and
coaches go home when they retire. Few go to Canton. Fewer still make it
on their first try. Warren Sapp is one of them. Now you know why.