Pro Football Hall of Fame 2013: Warren Sapp, franchise-changer, heads to Canton

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The Bucs defense was historically bad for decades before drafting two very special players in 1995, and then it became historic in the good sense, while Sapp's dominance stretched on well into the 2000s.

If a great player's career starts in 1995, how do you decide which "All-Decade" team to put him on? Well if he's Warren Sapp, you just put him on both the All-1990s and the All-2000s teams. His impact on the game was bigger than one decade, and he terrorized offensive linemen and quarterback through his retirement in 2007. Those efforts will be rewarded with an induction into the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

When the Buccaneers drafted Sapp with the 12th overall pick in the 1995 draft, they were still mired in laughingstock status, having last posted a winning season in 1982 when they went 5-4 in a strike-shortened year. The "Yucks" defense had given up at least 350 points in each of the previous 12 seasons before the team drafted Sapp.

In his rookie season, the Bucs gave up 335 points. They allowed fewer than 300 points in each of the next eight years, and finished in the top eight in scoring defense every time. Warren Sapp was at the very center of that success, his unprecedented skill as an extremely athletic defensive tackle allowing the Buccaneers defense to have freedom unlike most defenses had ever had before.

Perhaps no coach had ever quite seen a player like Sapp: a 6'2, 300-pound defensive lineman who ran a 4.69 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine but had slipped in the draft because of rumors that he had failed drug tests while at the University of Miami. Sapp fell to 12th in a draft that saw running back Ki-Jana Carter go first overall to the Bengals.

More from Bucs Nation: One for the ages

Not only were the Bucs lucky to grab Sapp in the first round, but with the 28th overall pick they selected future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks. A year later, Tampa Bay hired defensive-minded head coach Tony Dungy, who hired defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to run what would become the Tampa 2 defense.

Something that's only possible when you have players as talented as Sapp and Brooks, the Bucs went to the playoffs five times in six years between 1997 and 2002, winning their first and only Super Bowl in 2002 under head coach Jon Gruden.

The 2002 defense that allowed the fewest point and yards in the league that year is considered one of the greatest units of all time. That season, Sapp recorded 47 tackles, 7.5 sacks and two interceptions, which helped propel him to one of his seven Pro Bowl selections and one of his four First-Team All-Pro selections over his career.

Other honors include being named the 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press when he recorded 12.5 sacks, a number much higher than what we are used to seeing from a defensive tackle.

In 2000, he had 16.5 sacks.

Despite not getting started until 1995, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named him to the second-team All-Decade team for the 1990s behind Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and John Randle. Sapp would continue to play for the Buccaneers until 2003 before signing a seven-year, $36.6 million contract with the Oakland Raiders -- the same team that he had defeated in the Super Bowl just two years earlier.

Sapp recorded 19.5 sacks with the Raiders in 58 games, remaining effective until his retirement at the age of 35. The Pro Football Hall of Fame put him on the first-team All-Decade team for the 2000s along with Richard Seymour of the New England Patriots.

Among the players who have also won the Super Bowl, made the Pro Bowl and been named Defensive Player of the Year, but have yet to make the Hall of Fame, are Michael Strahan, who many (but not Sapp) think should be in soon, and Sapp's own teammate Derrick Brooks, who will be eligible for the first time next year.

Like Sapp, there should be no question of his first-ballot status. They were both good enough to see their greatness not only last for a fleeting moment, but to span over two decades.

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