I totally forgot about this, until the random Twitter algorithm gave me a chuckle on Saturday afternoon.
“WE WANT SAPP! WE WANT SAPP! WE WANT SAPP!”
The words rang out in the Paramount Theater in New York City. Jets fans screamed for their team to turn in their card for the standout defensive tackle from the University of Miami. Sapp grinned, taking in the raucous crowd pining for him.
Then, the ESPN camera showed TE Kyle Brady on the phone. The big tight end from Penn State was grinning, and while the people at home knew it, the Jets fans in attendance didn’t yet.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue called out the pick. Jets fans sat in stunned shock with those that could speak jeering the pick. Tagliabue even gave a little grin in response to the palpable disbelief. They even booed Brady and his mom when they went on stage.
And they were right to be sick. Sapp redefined the way his position was played. He served as the anchor in the middle of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ legendary Tampa Two defense, generating constant pressure and collapsing the pocket from the inside. I watched that defense play in 2002 firsthand, and the amount of pressure their front four created on a down-to-down basis was just staggering.
Instead, the Jets settled on Brady. In 13 seasons, he surpassed 400 receiving yards twice and caught more than 2 touchdowns in a season just 3 times. And it wasn’t just Sapp that the Jets missed out on. There were six future NFL Hall of Famers in that 1995 draft class. By the ninth pick, only OT Tony Boselli was off the board. Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Ty Law, Curtis Martin, and Terrell Davis were all selected later.
For once, the wild and wacky Jets fans knew what they were talking about. For Bucs fans, it’s a good thing the Jets front office didn’t listen. And for Sapp, you have to wonder how a powder keg like him would have handled the New York media and a dreadfully-bad team (the 1995 Jets went 3-13 and followed in 1996 at 1-15). He would have ultimately succeeded anywhere - he was too talented not to - but it sure didn’t hurt his career and legacy to end up playing for a defensive genius like Tony Dungy and alongside future Hall of Famers Brooks, Ronde Barber, and John Lynch.
It was the perfect situation for one of the greatest Canes to ever lace them up.