Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Voter: Performance all that matters in Pro Football Hall of Fame
NEW ORLEANS - My ninth year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame panel is shaping up as a special occasion. For the first time, I'm talking up the credentials of a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player. When the 46-member Board of Selectors meets this morning at the New Orleans Convention Center, I'll be presenting the case for Warren Sapp to be inducted into the Canton, Ohio, shrine of excellence. The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle is one of four dynamic first-time eligible players in the group of 15 modern-day finalists to be considered for the Class of 2013. After much discussion and debate, the inductees will be announced at 5:30 p.m. on the NFL Network.Since replacing legendary former Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen in 2005 as Tampa Bay's Hall of Fame representative, I've become increasingly aware of the heavy responsibility with which selectors are charged. Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame, entry to Canton is based strictly on performance, according to the by-laws. Character, or lack of character, is not supposed to be considered. Sapp had a frosty relationship with the media throughout his 13-year career, but his dominant play is what counts. Since the Bucs opened training camp six months ago, I have been gathering testimonials about Sapp from prominent NFL voices such as Patriots coach Bill Belichick, former NFL executive Bill Polian and former Rams coach Mike Martz. I will use those accolades as part of my 10-minute presentation for Sapp. Other selectors are expected to follow with pro-Sapp comments before a general discussion about his qualifications that could take as much as 45 minutes. In addition to 15 modern-era nominees, there are two candidates recommended by the Seniors Committee this year — Green Bay linebacker Dave Robinson and Chiefs/Oilers defensive tackle Curley Culp. A maximum of five modern-day candidates can be elected into any class, and Saturday's discussions typically last seven or eight hours before the meeting adjourns and the accounting firm tallies the final votes. Two years ago, I was privileged to make the presentation for Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films. Ed and his son, Steve, who recently passed away, played a pivotal role in the growth of pro football into America's No. 1 sport. Sabol was listed as a contributor and earned a spot in the Class of 2011. The only Hall of Famer who played the bulk of his career in Tampa is the late defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, the inaugural draft pick in franchise history. Sapp, a two-time All-Decade selection, has a chance to join Selmon, with formal induction slated for Aug. 3. A year from now, former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks and coach Tony Dungy will be eligible for the first time when Hall of Fame selectors meet in New York on the day before the Super Bowl. I likely will share the Dungy presentation with the representative from Indianapolis, where Dungy coached the Colts to a Super Bowl victory five years after his dismissal from the Bucs. After discussing each of the modern-era nominees, the field of 15 will be reduced to 10. Following some additional give-and-take, the list is cut to five. At that point, selectors are asked for a simple "Yes" or "No" on each of the final five, with an 80-percent approval rate required for induction. Including the Senior Committee nominees, a minimum of four and a maximum of seven candidates will be elected in any class. Each year, I am struck by how many deserving players, coaches and contributors are up for induction. You don't make the list of 15 finalists without being worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, yet at least two-thirds of those candidates end up disappointed. This session will be no different. Gaining entry in the first year of eligibility is a special distinction for any candidate, but Sapp was a special player who fueled Tampa Bay's rise into a perennial NFL power during his nine seasons with the Bucs. With Brooks and Dungy around the corner, it's time for Selmon to make room for another Buccaneer in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It could start today with big No. 99.