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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Sapp joining a team he can never leave

TAMPA - On his bronze bust, his bronze hair will be arranged in corn rows, his signature look and a Pro Football Hall of Fame first. As for Warren Sapp's 52-long golden Hall of Fame jacket, well, you just know the man won't sleep until he has QBKILLA sewn into the inside.
He'll do it his way, as he did it all the way to Canton - and history.
The 280th member of the Hall of Fame will be only the second Buccaneer, joining Lee Roy Selmon. Sapp's bust will join the others in a gallery that quiets even the loudest fan - or football player.
"I've cried every day," Sapp said.
He's joining a team you never leave. You can't even die your way off it.
Sapp, being Sapp, is filled with life describing the day the Hall of Fame sculptor came to his Hollywood, Fla., home, armed with a large block of clay, to begin the real work on the bust.
"... It ain't like you're posing, like you're Marilyn Monroe or some perfect model," Sapp said. "You're not just going to lay there like the girl in Titanic lying there. I ate two subs. I was watching ... What was the tournament that Tiger didn't make it? The Memorial ... there you go. I was watching The Memorial, Jack's tournament. Tiger wasn't in it on the weekend. I was watching that.
"He's just doing it, carving and going. I'm looking at my floor and little pieces of chalk are falling and he's stepping on my floor with his combat boots ... I tell myself, 'Sapp, do not disturb the artist.'"
People tried to disturb Sapp the artist every time he played, but he kept coming. And now he's forever.
The Hall of Fame arranges an orientation visit for all of its inductees. It's a site survey as much as anything. Sapp visited the Hall in late March. He was accompanied by Pete Fierle, the Hall of Fame's manager of digital media/communications.
"When Warren came, part of the orientation was getting a tour through the museum," Fierle said. "As we turned the corner where the Hall of Famers gallery is, where the busts are, he stopped in his tracks and began to tear up. He took several seconds to compose himself before he could walk in there."
Sapp had been to Canton, Ohio, before, but had never seen the bronze. In his previous visits to Canton, with the Bucs when they played in the 1998 Hall of Fame game, or when the Raiders did the same in 2006, or even in his on-site Hall work for the NFL Network, 99 had refused to get anywhere near the bronze.
"In 1998, I think I was going into my lazy-man year with the Bucs or I was in the middle of it, when I didn't play well, when I didn't work out," Sapp said. "So I wasn't going to look the greats of the game in the face if I didn't have a body that said, 'Yeah, I'm about to wreck the NFL, fellas.' I wasn't ready to look the greats in the eye.
"When I went there with the Raiders, we had won nine games in two years. Now, there was no way I was going to go in there and look at the Hall of Fame Raiders, eight of them at the time, I think, and tell them that I was upholding their tradition."
And there was the time an NFL Network producer suggested Sapp do a piece from inside the gallery. Sapp looked at the man as if he had two heads, neither of them bronze.
"They were telling me to be on camera in the bust room," he said. "I was telling them, 'No.'
"When you walk in the bust room, you have to have a message in your mind, because that's the thing you're told, the legend, is that the guys talk to each other when the Hall is closed and they turn the lights out. I didn't want to walk in that room until I felt I was in the right frame of mind, because you're walking through the history of the game that you love."
In March, Sapp finally walked the walk. He paused at one bust.
"I stopped at Lee Roy," he said. "That was a mental conversation."
And a private one.
Now there's time enough to talk to everyone, even late at night.
"I think I'll be listening to the stories," Warren Sapp said.
Give him time. He'll pipe up. That's the man, after all.
And the man belongs.
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