NEW YORK -- Some sort of cuckoo seems to hit certain players when they make it into the Hall of Fame. And they don’t even appear to realize it. Goose Gossage seems to bounce around the country looking for people to tell that Mariano Rivera (while a fine pitcher) couldn’t do what relievers of his era did. And he looks bitter.
Reggie Jackson not too long ago unveiled to Sports Illustrated a long list of players he didn’t think belonged in the Hall of Fame -- Gary Carter, Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Phil Niekro and Jim Rice among them. And he looked bitter.
Now, Warren Sapp is at the Super Bowl ranting that Michael Strahan is not a Hall of Famer.
The Sapp gripes about Strahan are not new. Sapp and Strahan are two of the more compelling defensive figures of the 2000s and certainly two of the most outspoken. They have had a mostly-entertaining feud for more than a decade. The feud seemed to begin after Strahan set the NFL sack record on a more-than-questionable “sack” on Brett Favre. Favre famously fell to the ground before Strahan even got there.
Sapp called that a travesty.
Strahan called Sapp a jackass.
Sapp said there should be an asterisk next to the record because it’s not legitimate.
Strahan said there should be McDonald’s next to Sapp’s house because he’s fat.
And so on.
So this Sapp attempt to degrade Strahan as he is coming up for the Hall of Fame vote is not especially surprising. Here’s Sapp’s money quote to Newsday’s Neil Best, if you are interested.
“When you stack it up, and he only has four straight Pro Bowls and a mythical sack record that y’all still walk around like it’s something to be praised -- I mean y’all have to get off your high horse in New York and speak about the real.”
It’s really quite astonishing how many things Sapp got wrong in that little rant. I mean, you would think he would have looked it up first. Strahan never made four consecutive Pro Bowls -- his longest streak was three (twice). But even more to the point, this “straight Pro Bowl” theme is a farce. Strahan made seven total Pro Bowls which is the same number as (get ready for it) Warren Sapp. He was first-team All-Pro four times which is the same number as (get ready for it) Warren Sapp. He was NFL Defensive Player of the Year once, same number as (yeah) Warren Sapp.
They played different positions -- Sapp a defensive tackle, Strahan a defensive end -- so it’s hard to compare them. They had different responsibilities, dealt with different blocking strategies and so on. Sapp was usually double-teamed; his role on many plays was just to take up those two blockers. Strahan was often in pass-rush mode, meaning he would wheel around a tackle and go after the quarterback no matter what the play meant.
That said, it’s difficult to make a case that Sapp was a more productive football player than Strahan. Sapp’s 96.5 sacks as a defensive tackle is remarkable -- only John Randle among defensive tackles had more. But Strahan had 45 more sacks and led the league twice. Strahan forced more fumbles, recovered more fumbles, made more tackles, made more big plays, started more games and starred on two Giants teams that played in the Super Bowl (Sapp played on one). Again, Sapp’s role was different. But these comparisons make a lot more sense than the “straight Pro Bowl” nonsense.
And the “he only has four straight Pro Bowl” crack is not only wrong, it’s disingenuous. Strahan missed the Pro Bowl in 2000 or else he would have made seven straight, just like Sapp. And Strahan aged better than Sapp, putting up a productive Pro Bowl season at 34 while Sapp really wasn’t the same player after 31.
However, comparing Sapp and Strahan is not the point. The point is that there seems a bit of a trend of athletes who make it into the Hall of Fame trying to lock the door behind them. When the Baseball Hall of Fame made the pronounced mistake of having current Hall of Famers vote in new Hall of Famers, they found that NOBODY was as good as they were. Every time. The living Hall of famers voted on four different ballots. And they voted in exactly zero players. Yeah. Zero.
And, it seems like every few days you have another Hall of Famer complaining about the players today. Maybe it’s Jim Rice, who was not exactly viewed as the most fundamentally sound player, complaining about how nobody cares about fundamentals anymore. Maybe it’s Paul Molitor, who overcame a drug addiction while playing, griping that A-Rod should not go to the Hall of Fame because he used drugs. Maybe it’s Warren Sapp trying to extend a quarrel from the playing field to the legacy field now that he’s safely in Canton.
And time again, it’s striking to see how little self-awareness these Hall of Famers show. Warren Sapp probably does not realize how much he is detracting from his own greatness when he belittles Strahan. There are lessons in football, of course, and one of my favorites is that when you score a touchdown you should act like you’ve been in the end zone before. If you’re blessed enough to make the Hall of Fame, any sport, you should act like a Hall of Famer.
“I don’t think his résumé stacks up,” Sapp said of Strahan.
“The tiger does not pay attention to the opinion of the sheep,” Strahan said of Sapp.
Hmm. Who do you think won that exchange?