The end of an era of a dominating Bucs defense came to an end after the 2003 season with many defections and the end of the career of former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp came to an end on Thursday. It only took two words for Sapp to end a 13-year career that spanned two teams and a whole lot of trash talking.
"I'm Done!" was posted on Sapp's website, www.qbkilla.com, and he also called Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis to inform him of the news after telling his teammates and coaches of his decision following Sunday's season finale for the Raiders. Sapp was a big reason for the turnaround of the Bucs franchise, but because of contact issues, ended his career in Oakland.
On Friday, several Bucs players who played with Sapp reminisced about their time with the talented defensive tackle. Tampa Bay will face the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
"I love him and I'm prejudice to him and sorry to hear about that. I think football needs Warren Sapp and he had a great career," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "I want to thank him for everything he did for me and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and it's a sad day for me personally. I wish him well and he'll always be welcomed here."
Sapp only played two seasons for Gruden, but helped bring the only Super Bowl championship in franchise history in 2002. That season was Gruden's first year as head coach with the Bucs and Sapp was a major reason for the defense's No. 1 ranking and championship run.
Sapp was chosen in the first round with the 12th overall selection in the 1995 NFL Draft and was teamed with fellow first round selection that same season in linebacker Derrick Brooks. Former Bucs safety John Lynch, who had been drafted in the third round of the 1993 NFL Draft, was the third member of a trio that would help the Bucs defense rank in the top 10 five times from 1995 to 2003.
"I've said time and time again that he and I being drafted together and having our careers take off together has been a blessing," Brooks said. "Having John Lynch being a third part of it is really an honor from my standpoint. So the three of us and the success of this defense will always be tied together."
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber was also a part of that defense and remembers Sapp for his loud, boisterous attitude on the field. He holds Sapp in a special light for being a major reason for the turnaround of Tampa Bay's franchise.
"He is what defines the Buccaneers," Barber said. "The swagger, excellence; he's a premier guy in the league."
Sapp holds the team record for most sacks in a season with 16.5 in 2000 and is second in franchise history with 77 career sacks. He sits 1.5 sacks behind Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who holds the team career record with 78.5 sacks. He also won the Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and had 18 multi-sack games during his tenure with the Bucs. He finishes his career with 96.5 sacks which ranks him 28th in the NFL record books.
Bucs center John Wade only got to play with Sapp as a teammate for one season, but he remembers the knowledge that he brought to the field.
"He loved the game, understands the game and practices hard. I was just here for one year with him, but I respected him as a player and how he prepared," Wade said. "You ask him about any lineman in the league and he will tell you [about him], any offensive lineman. He studies football and knows football."
Bucs running back Michael Pittman was a part of the 2002 Super Bowl championship team and befriended Sapp in the two years that he got to play with him. He remembered the leadership that Sapp supplied during the regular season and in the playoffs in 2002.
"It brought confidence to the team because Warren thought he was unstoppable, which was a great thing. He talked with confidence, he played with confidence and people that didn't know him just misunderstood him," Pittman said. "You have to know Warren to understand where he was coming from and I got to know him for a few years before he finally left and he will talk the game, but also go out there and play. He will give you all he's got and I was very disappointed when he left here, but I still think Warren can still play at the top of his game right now. He's one of the best players that I have played with since my career started in the NFL."
Sapp would never shy away from confrontation on the field, whether it was of a playful or controversial nature. When the Bucs traveled to Green Bay in the 1997 postseason, Sapp and Packers quarterback Brett Favre were seen multiple times jawing back and forth. Sapp, however, was confronted in 2002 on the field by former Packers head coach Mike Sherman after what he deemed a dirty hit on offensive tackle Chad Clifton that almost ended his career.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who has been with the Bucs since former head coach Tony Dungy took over in 1996, recalls when Sapp and Brooks made the turning point in making the Bucs a winning franchise.
"I think in 1996 we started out 0-5 and then went to 1-8 or something and we made a trip to San Diego and ESPN had commented about the orange and white," Kiffin said. "Derrick and Warren were rooming together and they said ‘That's it, that's it, no more.' So we are fired up to play San Diego and well fall down 14-0. We came back and beat them, but there are a lot of Warren Sapp stories."
Kiffin had a smile on his face after Friday's practice talking about the time he spent with Sapp. He talked about how he played the three technique – having gap responsibility between the guard and tackle – and knew everyone's responsibility in the Tampa Two defense.
"He's a special guy, he really is. Let me tell you, he just loves football," Kiffin said. "He's a football giant and he knows every play of the game. He knows the history of football and an unbelievably intelligent person. When somebody would break down he would know the linebacker's assignment. He was really smart and took a lot of pride in knowing our defense."
Brooks, who has been known for letting his play do his talking for him, admitted that sometimes it was his words that Sapp was enlightening the media with during their time as teammates. He also remembers that Sapp was all about swagger, whether it was on or off the field.
"He brought a swagger in general because that's who he was. I always said that he was my best quote machine. A lot of things that I couldn't say he would say them for me," Brooks said laughing. "Warren would hear me say something and he would say ‘What did you say' and I would say it again knowing it would get repeated. He would say and any backlash that came from it he would take it. He would always remind me every time we would get together the hits he took for me. He would say ‘I took a lot of hits for you and I'm going to get you back some day'. So that's just the kind of relationship we had."
Every Bucs player that remains on the team that had the opportunity to play with Sapp agreed that he's a first ballot Hall of Famer. When asked what his first thought is when he hears the name Sapp mentioned, Brooks had high praise for his former teammate.
"That he's the best defensive tackle that I've ever played with. Period. In my mind," Brooks said.
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