NEW ORLEANS -- Two defensive linemen who once didn't like each other at all were on the list of 15 semifinalists for the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame. One made the cut and one didn't, despite some interesting similarities in their careers. Each man was a seven-time Pro Bowler and 4-time First Team All-Pro. Each man won one Super Bowl, and each man put up amazing sack numbers for his position. But as it always is when the final votes are cast and the final lists are cut, names are eliminated with some controversy. So when former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp made it in, and former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan didn't, some eyebrows were raised.
An interesting sideline to the Sapp/Strahan story was the feud the two great players had in 2002, soon after Strahan broke the single-season sack record with 22.5 quarterback takedowns. The last sack of Strahan's season came against the Green Bay Packers, and Brett Favre certainly seemed to concede that final one. Sapp, as is his wont, had something to say about that, despite the fact that he had just six sacks that same season.understandably took offense.
"Warren Sapp is a jackass," Strahan in August, 2002, from the Giants' training camp. "And I hope he reads that. He'll see me to my face and he'll be nice, but Warren is a jackass. So get out of the first round of the playoffs, then you can talk to me."
Of course, Sapp's Buccaneers won their Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season, so Sapp filled that request. He also had a lot to say in response, especially to Strahan's contention that the big fella had a bit too much McDonald's in his diet.
"That's OK," Sapp said. "I've been called worse. The McDonald's thing I loved. Because at McDonald's, we love to see you smile. My favorite spot on Friday night."
Sapp wanted to make sure that he made it clear -- he was very impressed with Strahan's first 21 1/2 sacks that season. But the last one did have an aura of suspicion around it.
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"The man called belly weak," Sapp said of the play call that left Favre rolling out and unprotected. "You don't get a sack on belly weak. Who was the intended receiver? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know this. I'm from Florida and Cape Canaveral is right around the corner from my home. But I don't build rockets and I don't know how they fly rockets. But I know what belly weak looks like. And I know what a sack looks like. Thank you.
"The hardest quarterback in this league to put on the ground," Sapp said of Favre, with whom he enjoyed a long rivalry. "Not only did they run that bootleg not once, not twice but four times. They ran it the first play of the game. I watched the whole thing. This is not a debate. This is a man who wants something given to him and they gave it to him. So have it."
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Strahan certainly had a response to that.
"Stop talking and maybe just do it and worry about what he's got going on with his team before I pull out the film of these guys playing the Eagles in the playoffs where he shut it down on national TV. I'm sick of a guy who ain't even the best defensive tackle in the league talking about me."
Personally, I'm of the opinion that both men should have been first-ballot locks. Sapp in his prime was one of the greatest pass-rushing defensive tackles I've ever seen, but I'm not sure his prime lasted quite as long as Strahan's. Certainly, Strahan went out on a higher note, playing at a nearly unblockable level in Super Bowl XLII, which was his last game.
Hopefully, Strahan will make it in next year. And hopefully, Strahan and Sapp can catch up and shake hands when both men are at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. They've made up since then, they were both wonderful players, and they both deserve the NFL's highest honor.
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