Long before Warren Sapp earned enshrinement with the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction class; before leading the Super Bowl XXXVII champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense; even before dominating the college gridiron as a member of the Miami Hurricanes, he was a recruit from Apopka, Fla.
“Coach Dennis Erickson and all the University of Miami; the ‘Canes,” Sapp said in recognition of his collegiate alma mater during his Hall of Fame induction speech. “I want to thank Coach E. for getting on a plane and flying up from Miami to Orlando, then getting on the 441 going north.”
In that small, central Florida town, Erickson discovered a teenager who would go down as one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever ply his trade.
Sapp was one of seven NFL greats granted membership into the Pro Football Hall of Fame during Saturday’s ceremony in Canton, Ohio. Prior to excelling on Sundays, each of the seven — Cris Carter (Ohio State), Larry Allen (Sonoma State), Jonathan Ogden (UCLA), Curley Culp (Arizona State), Dave Robinson (Penn State) and Bill Parcells (Wichita State as a player, Air Force as a head coach) — starred on Saturdays.
Sapp won the Rotary Lombardi Award in 1994, the culmination of an 84-tackle, 10.5-sack final campaign at The U., and was named a 1st Team All-American.
Dave Robinson wreaked his own brand of defensive havoc three decades earlier at Penn State. Robinson helped establish Happy Valley as the home of Linebacker U. in the early 1960s. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
Cris Carter is the quintessential supplemental draft success story. He had a messy departure from Ohio State after earning consensus All-American recognition in 1986. Coming off a 1127-yard, 11-touchdown junior season, the NCAA declared Carter ineligible for his senior year after signing with an agent.
“I sincerely apologize for signing with a sports agent and losing my eligibility my senior year,” Carter said during his speech. “The only regret I have in my athletic career is I couldn’t play for the Buckeyes as a senior.
“Buckeye fans, Cris Carter says ‘I’m sorry,'” he added. “To all my Buckeye teammates…I greatly appreciate it.”
Carter led fans at his induction ceremony in an “O-H-I-O!” chant, and touted his Buckeye State lineage.
Another template for professional success through an uncommon path is Larry Allen. Div. II Sonoma State no longer fields a football program, but before closing down its program in 1997, it gave this Hall of Fame offensive lineman a foundation.
For every star playing for a nationally recognized FBS powerhouse, there are countless talents playing the game at Div. II, Div. III, NAIA, FCS and even lower profile FBS programs with big NFL dreams. Allen is a role model for every Danny Woodhead, Victor Cruz or Eric Fisher emerging from collegiate obscurity.
Bill Parcells also played for a now-defunct program at Wichita State. But Parcells wasn’t known for his contributions on the field. He is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest coaches of all-time.
Before leading the New York Giants to two Lombardi Trophies, Parcells spent one year as head coach of the Air Force Falcons. The Academy went an underwhelming 3-8 in Parcells’ one season at the helm, but the program launched him for greater things.
A pair of Pac-12 alumni round out the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction class. UCLA Bruins offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden made his second Hall of Fame speech in as many years — he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
Legendary Frank Kush’s outstanding Arizona State teams of the late 1960s and 1970s paved the way for the Sun Devils to move from the WAC to the Pac. The 1967 team finished 8-2, and starring for that squad was defensive lineman Curley Culp.
In addition to helping set a base for ASU football’s future, Culp was a star on the national powerhouse Sun Devil wrestling team.