The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by new head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik, had a lot of new players on the field for the team's organize team activity at One Buc Place on Tuesday.
But the Bucs had one familiar face in attendance, former defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who said he decided to take Morris up on his offer to visit Bucs practice in order to get his football fix.
Sapp, who played for the Bucs (1996-03) and Raiders (2003-07) before retiring at the end of the '07 season, spoke with the media at One Buc Place on Tuesday afternoon.
In this edited Q&A transcript with the media, Sapp reflected on his playing days with the Bucs, including the team that won Super Bowl XXXVII, and sounded off on former teammate Keyshawn Johnson and new Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow, who did not participate in Tuesday's voluntary workout.
What do you think or Raheem [Morris] being the head coach of this football team? "It's funny because I was on the field looking for [general manager] Mark Dominik. That was always my dude to talk to, so I look over on the field and he's on the phone talking and doing the G.M. thing. I was thinking, ‘I can't even talk to Mark anymore.' Raheem was a little kid when I was here. I was like, ‘Damn.' It's eye-opening and refreshing. I'm also eager to see him get into it. Nothing about this game is easy, and it has a great way of humbling you. Raheem has worked hard and had a humble beginning from where he started and now he has his team ready to follow him. I'm going to back him and give him as much support as I can, but I know he's going to have some sleepless nights and have some good and bad days."
What do you think of [defensive coordinator] Jim Bates and his defensive scheme? "I knew of him, and played against him many years, but I don't know that much about him. I know his son really well. He's been in this league, and nothing teaches you this game but this game. He has years of experience and has called the things that need to be called. I'm sure it's going to be a wonderful job for him." Is the age of the Bucs defense over with you, Lynch and Brooks gone? "They don't play Tamp 2 anymore. The horses don't pull that wagon anymore. They're calling all different names and terminologies. Sometimes that's good because all these kids are going to learn the same thing at the same time and everybody will be on the same page. I just like the numbers they have. They can come together and learn the game together."
What did you make of the way Derrick Brooks' chapter ended in Tampa Bay? You got to leave on your own terms. "You know my rule – wives, kids and money you don't discuss. For me, I was a hard ass, so I was going to do it my way anyway. Whenever I got finished it was going to be, ‘That's the way Warren wanted to do it.' I had made up my mind here when [former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden] told me he'd call me back in one hour. When he told me that I went and cleaned out my locker. You have to make a decision in terms of where you draw the line, and I'm real quick to draw the line. Whatever [Derrick] has going he has going. I love him to death and typed to him. It's an ugly situation. It's not an opportune time to 30-something in this league right now. It's just the economics of the game. I saw that happen with Hardy [Nickerson] back in 1999. He was the leader of our team, and then he was gone. But it's hard to see that guy (Brooks), in this place, not be here. Forever and a day, that was the one piece that was going to always be here if you asked me."
Do you think Derrick Brooks will play for another team? "If I had a team I'd take him in a heartbeat, but Warren don't have a team. Or, Warren's team is the media now, and I don't think he wants that."
The Bucs drafted Josh Freeman. Do you like that for this organization? "I didn't get an opportunity to [watch him a lot], and I don't do drafts for obvious reasons. I really didn't go into it a lot, but I knew the size and ability. He has a great upside, but as far as you can go up is as far as you can come down in this league. That's the challenge to see. Nobody saw Tom Brady at where he was drafted. You never know where treasure will be found. I like it. You're talking about a monster standing in the pocket. If you have a muscle-bound, athletic quarterback that can throw the ball anywhere you teach him the game and see what he can become."
There have been special nights or events for former players, including Mike Alstott. Do you think there will be a Warren Sapp night at Ray-Jay? "I would love it. It would be fantastic. Everybody should have the opportunity to come back and say thank you for everything the fans have done for me over the years. Just going into the North end zone was an absolute pleasure. It was like being in my living room. It was an absolute pleasure to play in that place."
The Bucs are going to have a Ring of Honor and they are going to wear their throwback uniforms this year. "Are the Glazers leaving the country? I remember when there was some talk of us wearing those uniforms in New Orleans and they were like, ‘No way. We'll never pull those things back out.' I saw one [throwback jersey] at the Magic basketball game the other night. It was nice."
What's your take on Michael Vick and him attempting to get back into the NFL once he's out of prison? "Our country has always been about second chances. Go pay your price and come back a different person or whatever it is. We've never been one strike and you're gone. That's never been our mentality. To error is human. Keep the venom out of it. That's what I say. The PETA people and those people, just take the venom out of it. This is a human we're talking about. This man went from on top of the world to – you can't get any lower than this. They won't even take his bankruptcy plan. I understand that people love their dogs and everything like that, and that it was a horrible thing, but if he was 40 miles to the left and new the law or 40 miles to the right he might have been okay. But he wasn't. Has he paid his debt? I would think so. If I had an offense and he could Wildcat me to three or four more wins then come on in. This is a country of second chances, so why not? He hasn't done anything too egregious, or at least not in my eyes. I don't do dogs or cats. Tropical fish is my thing. Get inside the tank and I'll feed you over the top."
What changed with the Bucs and the Glazers after the team won the Super Bowl? "With the ownership, it was in the locker room. Everybody knows the process in which you have to follow to be what you want to become. But everybody had something to do other than be here and work. Then we got into the season and Keyshawn [Johnson] turns into, ‘I hate [Gruden] and his offense. We had to put up with that for four weeks until the decision was finally made to get him off the team. Then we had guys in the locker room that were like, ‘Well, I was with Key and that's wrong, and then other guys were like, ‘That's right.' So then we went 7-9, and all the sudden your championship run is over.' Then we came back the following year and I am gone, Lynch is gone and then you're trying to put the pieces back together. Then you had Monte Kiffin doing his thing and wanting to build the defense, and you had Gruden wanting to do his thing to help put points on the scoreboard. That's fine, but this thing was built on defense. Now you're looking over at the defensive side and it's not the same unit. How do you base your team on a unit that hasn't stayed intact and doesn't have the horses to pull the players? Now you're pulling everything to the offensive side, and so now you have an okay offense and a okay defense. You don't have a superior defense to play Buc ball and allow 17 points a game and get turnovers. It's different personnel."
Was there a connection in Monte Kiffin announcing that he was leaving for Tennessee in November and the collapse of the Bucs defense in December? "It was way before that. There was a definite connection. I never heard Brooks so distraught on the telephone, and I've known him since he was 17. Once I knew he was upset I knew it had to filter down because you get your tone from the head man. Brooks was absolutely out of his rock about it. He was like, ‘Oh my God.' I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? He's just making the calls.' But that wasn't his philosophy. That was my philosophy. You make the call and we'll make it work."
Do you look at this building and feel it was built on your back? "No, no, no. One Buc was our home. I never had one day in this place, and this is my third time being here, and only the second time going through the doors. I won't go in the locker room. I will not go in there. It's too nice. I looked through the window and saw it, like, ‘Oh, they have wood. Nice.' But no way was I going in there."
What are you doing these days? "Inside the NFL, the Emmy-award winning show. I also do NFL Network. I did the Superstars Competition that comes on June 23 on ABC in prime time. I've been telling you for years that I live a tough life (laughing). What do you want me to do about it?"
Will the Wildcat offense continue to work in the NFL? "It's nothing but Power O without a quarterback. You can only run it against 3-4 teams because you're trying to fool them and they're trying to fool you. It's a bunch of fools playing against each other. If we play a 4-3 scheme in Tampa 2 and I got B [gap], Brooks has A [gap] and Lynch has C [gap] your [butt] is grass. You can play that type of ball all you want but you're eventually going to have to pick one of these gaps to run in and when you do we're going to tap that [butt]. That's how we play."
What do you think about Brett Favre? "I did the Trent Dilfer thing and sent him a text message. But I sent him one as a friend, not as a reporter. ‘What the hell are you going to do?' He said, ‘What do you think I should do?' I said, ‘End of conversation.' I have said this more than one time. All of us have the right to change our mind, all of [the media] does, too. You have the right to say you don't want to do it anymore. I think it would be a little tougher for you to get your jobs back (laughing). But that's the right you have. I just wish he'd make a decision and go with it. I think he gets sick of it. I'm sure he gets sick of being asked about it."
You build a team like you helped build the Buccaneers, and even if it ends like it did for you do you still feel like you have some ownership of that or that you are still part of that team? "You have to believe that. I'm a Buccaneer until the day I die. That's the only thing I'll ever be. I went out to Oakland and got 15 wins in four years. I know exactly what it is and what I was in the middle of. I'm a Buc, buddy. As I look back on it I spent nine seasons in Tampa and only three were losing seasons. My first two and my last one. That's it. The rest of ‘em we were good. Not many people can say that."
When the Bucs defeated the Eagles in Week 1 of the 2003 season some thought that Bucs team was better than the '02 team. "It was crazy. We were destroyed from the inside. There was nothing that was going to impact us from the outside because it didn't matter to us. It came from all inside. You could watch the threads coming loose. You saw it week in and week out. Brooks and I were like, ‘How do we right this ship? How do we stop this?' We just said, ‘We'll play through it. We'll win games and play through it.' But something kept getting in every time."
When did you first see something was wrong that season? "In Week 3. It just didn't feel right. Each time we came together we weren't together. Each time we tried to get back to the things we did as a team away from football it was always a phase. It was, ‘Oh, I have something else to do.' We could never come back together. People always had something else to do. It wasn't a unit anymore. We had all gotten the prize and put on our shiny rings and celebrated. It wasn't a unit anymore."
Do you think you will have a tough time getting into the Hall of Fame because of your personality? "I never played for that. I never played for somebody that didn't play the game to say, ‘I validate your career and what you did for 13 years.' That's never going to be my thing. I played for 55, 47, 53, my peers and who played against me. That's the only way I played this thing. That's the only reason. Those who know know, and those to talk about it talk about it. So go talk about it. I have a battle to get in? They wouldn't let Art Monk in."
Do you think people will learn to appreciate even more the run Tampa Bay's defense had from the late 1990's to the time you won the Super Bowl as time goes on? "From 1996 when Tony Dungy got here to when we won the Super Bowl in 2002 I started six seasons (96 games). People are always saying, ‘Do what we do.' What is it that you do? People always looked at me crazy when I said, ‘Give me 17 points and we'll make it stick.' We gave up 16.02 points per game. That's why I said that. That's what we gave up from the time Dungy got here to the time we won a championship. That's what I hang my hat on. I am not a stats or numbers guy, but I knew that when we showed up you were going to have a damn hard time beating our team if you gave up 17 points to us. That's the way we were going to live. That's a long time to be doing it. That's no fluke. That's a span of six seasons that we played defense."
What do you think it's like for Ronde Barber? He came here in 1997 and is one of the few remaining from the Super Bowl team and the Dungy era? "That's got to be a sobering feeling for him knowing he's the last of the Mohicans. He really is. Outside of him and Jermaine Phillips, that's it. He's the last of the Mohicans. Flip didn't really play with us a lot because he was on special teams. He was just a baby at the time. So Ronde is the last of the Mohicans."
The Bucs are holding OTAs right now. What do you remember about those? "It was a chance for you to see your team come together. We never left here. We always came here to work. Mondays through Thursdays were workdays here. That's how we went about it. That's why I used to get on Keyshawn all the time when he first got here. Bill Parcells would never let you not show up during the offseason. Even if it was just running and lifting he was going to show up. We didn't ask him to run and lift. We were just asking him during those four weeks to be here so we could all come together. He wouldn't do that. It shows your dedication to your team more anything. Are you ready to lay the foundation that will carry us through the season? That's what is going on right now. That's why Kellen Winslow needs to be here so that when the quarterback throws to him when the blitz package is coming, ‘I know you're going to be there for me, Winslow.' Then you get the chance to work with Antonio Bryant and the other receivers. What the hell else are you doing? What else is going on? The Kentucky Derby?"
Do you have a special affinity for Kellen Winslow because he's a Miami Hurricane? When he came here he said he was misunderstood. "No, I don't. That doesn't give you a free pass with me. Just the school you went to, that's it? When your team fires up OTAs and you're not here you're being misunderstood again, right? Your past doesn't reflect your future, but it does give a refection of what you might do. I'll leave it at that."