As I'm sure everyone who regularly read this blog knows, I come from a family of FSU alumni and fans. Both of my older sisters attended FSU with the oldest beginning her tenure in Tallahassee in 1989. This particular sister is 12 years my elder. As a result of this, as well as the fact that my parents are both highly involved parents and big sports fans, I spent much of my adolescence attending Florida State University Football games. In that sense, I've been pretty lucky. I've seen some very memorable FSU games against the likes of Florida, Notre Dame, Clemson and Miami among others.
Among all the games I attended, two stand out more than the rest. The first is the "Choke at Doak". A game where Steve Spurrier's visiting Gator team took a 31-3 lead into the fourth quarter before allowing 28 unanswered points to the Seminoles in a game that ended in a tie. I sat in the student section that day next to my sister who is 6 years older than me. I was not yet a Florida student or fan. It was awesome. One of the most amazing late game comebacks of all time and I got to see it happen.
The second game that stands out wasn't nearly as good. Nor was it as well played. This game stood out for an entirely different reason. Dominance. The dominance of one player. That player was Warren Sapp.
Growing up, I went to a lot of FSU-Miami games. It was the best rivalry in college football, by far, and it happened to always fall within a couple days of my birthday during the second week of October. So in 1994, my sister Penny (6 years older) bought us tickets to go to the FSU-Miami game at the Orange Bowl. Obviously this was a fantastic birthday present.
I must state here that the Orange Bowl was a total dump. It was old, creaky and it smelled like piss. It also happened to reside in one of the worst neighborhoods in Miami. With all that said, the place was awesome. Especially for Saturday night games. The game FSU-Miami game in 1994 pitted the #3 Seminoles against the #13 Hurricanes and kickoff was at 8 pm. The Orange Bowl was electric that night. I was probably one of about 20 sober people in the whole place. It was loud, it was hostile and it was great.
Now, like most football fans in their mid-teens I didn't yet have a deep appreciation of the game. I paid more attention to the so called skill positions players. Wide receivers, defensive backs, running backs, etc. But everything changed that night. That night Warren Sapp absolutely took apart an extremely talented FSU offense. It felt like he did everything. And every time her made a play, the Miami band played the The Imperial March. It was the first time I had ever heard it used at a sporting event and holy shit was it cool. After that night I paid a lot more attention to the rest of Warren Sapp's games. And to line play in football in general. For a number of reasons, its a night I'll never forget.
As I mentioned earlier, my family is full of sports fans. Not everybody in my family is a fan of all the same teams, But everybody in my family is a fan of the same two teams. The St. Louis Cardinals. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Everybody in my family other than myself was born in St. Louis. And in 1973, they all moved to Clearwater, FL. In 1976 my parents became original Buccaneer season ticket holders. Setting me up for a childhood filled with long Sunday drives across the state (and back) to bake in the sun and watch the Bucs get their brains beat in my nearly everyone in the NFL. It's hard to overstate how bad the Bucs were. They were a joke. I don't mean that metaphorically. Growing up, I only knew one other kid who was a Bucs fan (we're still friends to this day). Think about that for a second. In a town nearly equidistant from Tampa and Miami only one other kid besides me liked the Bucs. I don't blame them either. The Dolphins were good. And they were cool. Dan Marino. Duper and Clayton. I wouldn't have rooted for the Bucs either. I didnt have a choice.
And eventually, I didn't think they'd ever be any good. Then the Bucs drafted Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks with the 12th and 28th picks of the first round. Within a matter of months, the entire future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneer franchise changed forever. When Tony Dungy came aboard as the head coach the following year, the franchise changed forever.
Because of my experiences watching both Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks dominate opponents on the collegiate level I was extremely optimistic about their chances in the NFL. But I had no idea how quickly they would put their imprint on the franchise. You know the rest. Eventually the Bucs won a Super Bowl, which was awesome. Sapp and Brooks anchored a historically great defense that could possibly put as many as five guys in the Hall of Fame (Brooks is a lock. Ronde Barber is close to a lock. John Lynch gets in eventually. And I think Simeon Rice does one day too.)
All of this was a extremely long winded way to say that I love Warren Sapp. And I'm happy he's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had the chance to go to the Hall of Fame as well as the Hall of Fame Game in 2002 at the tail end of my internship in Cleveland. It was a pretty cool experience. I took my picture next to the bust honoring the only Buccaneer in the Hall of Fame, Lee Roy Selmon. Now Lee Roy isn't a trivia question. There's another Buccaneer in the Hall.