CANTON, Ohio - Like the man himself, Warren Sapp's Pro Football Hall of Fame bronze bust was a complicated piece of work. Sculptor Blair Buswell said it required time-consuming patience. "Lots of little details,'' Buswell said. When it was unveiled - the Hall's first bust with hair braids - Sapp beamed. He patted it on the head and kissed the cheek. Job well done. That was what Sapp's teammates and opponents said before, during and after the induction ceremony at Fawcett Stadium.
Job well done. Sapp, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle and 13-year NFL veteran who was at the forefront of a franchise turnaround that resulted in a Super Bowl XXXVII championship, took his place alongside football legends, including the late Lee Roy Selmon, the franchise's other Hall of Famer. He felt right at home as he spoke for 11 minutes, 23 seconds, alternating between tears and laughter. He said football took him "from a dirt road to heights I've never even seen and now to a gold jacket.'' "It was a special night,'' said former Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson as he headed to Sapp's post-event party tent. "I thought Warren's speech was great.'' Wearing a dark suit, white sneakers and a wide smile, Sapp thanked his teammates and coaches, from Apopka High School to the University of Miami to the Bucs and the Oakland Raiders. But his most heartfelt emotions were reserved for two of the most important women in his life - his mother, Annie Roberts, and his ex-wife, Jamiko. Before the evening began, Roberts said she was "going to have my head down'' to avoid crying. "I don't know what he's going to say,'' Roberts said. "But I know the emotion is going to be building up.'' Sapp said Roberts was "my rock, my everything.'' Roberts worked four jobs to support her family in the tiny Central Florida town of Plymouth and Sapp said that's how he learned the meaning of work ethic. "I never played this game to get into the Hall of Fame,'' Sapp said. "I played this game to retire my mother because my mother worked to the bone. And I wasn't going to allow her or myself to be in that position again.'' To Jamiko, his ex-wife, Sapp said she "held me up when nobody else would. You were my backbone.'' The most poignant moments were delivered by Sapp's 15-year-old daughter, Mercedes, who presented him for induction. "He was dynamic and explosive and he made a significant impact on every snap of the ball,'' Mercedes Sapp said. "To be a Hall of Famer, you have to be the best at what you do. My dad was the best at what he did.'' Those thoughts were echoed in the tributes from teammates and opponents. Sapp commanded the ultimate respect. "He was the best defensive player in the league for four or five years, so he certainly belongs here,'' former Bucs safety John Lynch said. "Warren got things going up front. I feel like I had the best seat in the house.'' Tampa resident Vinny Testaverde, the NFL's No. 1 draft choice in 1986 and former Bucs quarterback who played 21 seasons in the league, said Sapp was "as good as it gets.'' "If every defense had 11 guys like Warren Sapp, you'd never lose a game,'' Testaverde said. Retired NFL assistant Bill Muir, who was the Bucs' offensive-line coach during the franchise's Super Bowl XXXVII championship season, said he was grateful to finally have Sapp on his side when he joined Jon Gruden's staff. "You don't block a guy like Warren Sapp,'' Muir said. "When he was on the other side, you knew he would make his fair share of plays. You just hoped they weren't game-changers. A guy like that, he's a Hall of Famer. People will be able to come here forever to learn about Warren Sapp.'' Sapp's bust will soon take its place among the other 279 at the Hall. As the old saying goes, when the building shuts down for the night, the busts come to life. They have conversations. Now here comes Sapp with the hair braids and the non-stop mouth. What's going to be said now? "Nothing, not a word,'' Sapp said. "That bust will have a piece of tape over the mouth. I've done enough talking. Now I want to hear some stories.'' Sapp is now at home, where he longed to be, part of history, surrounded by the football legends. Job well done. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7353 Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO