Play, not personality, put Sapp in HOF

As Warren Sapp gets ready to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, I wish I could sit here and give you some warm and fuzzy story from my days covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for The Tampa Tribune.

But the warm and fuzzy stories will have to wait until next year when Derrick Brooks makes his way to Canton, Ohio.

Brooks was a dream to cover. Sapp was not.

Don’t get me wrong. At times, Sapp could be engaging, insightful and funny. I have one hilarious memory of Sapp from the Pro Bowl after the 1997 season. Unfortunately, it can’t be told on a family blog. I have another memory of Sapp praising me for writing a controversial story, but I can’t share that one, either, because it was off the record.

I could sit here all day and tell you plenty of stories about how Sapp was vicious to the media. (And isn’t it ironic that he now is part of the media?) I’ve also heard numerous tales about how he was rude to fans.

But, love him or hate him, Sapp was one heck of a football player. Selection to the Hall of Fame isn’t based on personality or how someone carries himself, or else former Tampa Bay safety John Lynch would have gotten into the Hall of Fame long before Sapp.

I had to remind myself of the rules last winter before I walked into the room to take part in the Hall of Fame vote as an alternate. The bylaws say that on-field performance is the only qualification.

Once I digested that, the choice was easy and I knew I’d be voting for Sapp.

On the field, Sapp was a Hall of Famer. Without him, Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin wouldn’t have been able to make the Tampa 2 defense famous. Sapp had rare athleticism for a man his size, and his ability to create havoc at the point of attack made life easier for every other player on the defense.

Sometimes, at the end of practice, Sapp would goof around and start doing other things. He’d punt the ball or run pass patterns. You got the feeling that if he wanted to reconfigure his body he had enough athleticism to be great at any position.

But Sapp made his name at defensive tackle. In fact, the NFL still is looking for the next Sapp.

That’s the mark of true greatness -- when you play a position better than anyone in the next generation. That -- and not personality -- is what defines a Hall of Famer.