SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. I wonder how many battles in the trenches Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp won before the ball was even snapped.
Sapp always reminded me of boxing legend Mike Tyson in his prime. Tyson was known for coming out of the ring going 100 miles per hour charging right into his opponents with a furious frenzy of uppercuts, hooks and haymakers that knocked out plenty of boxers in under a minute.
Tyson gained such a reputation for quick knockouts that many of his foes feared him and immediately went on the defensive when the bell rang to start the fight, hoping to withstand the initial barrage and survive the first round. Plenty of guards undoubtedly felt the same way about Sapp.
“Sapp would kid around in the training room and get that boxer’s tape job on his fists, and he would always want to do it in white to make his hands appear faster than they were,” said Sapp’s former teammate and current Bucs radio broadcaster Dave Moore, who played tight end in Tampa Bay from 1992-2001 and from 2004-07. “He did enough talking and he had enough quickness off the ball that he was able to intimidate a lot of guys. That was the nature in which he played. If you left him one-on-one, that was something that we expected him to win every time. Unless he was double-teamed, there was no way you could stop him.”
After an illustrious career there was no stopping Sapp’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his induction into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor this year. Sapp’s name will be permanently affixed to Raymond James Stadium at halftime of the Monday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins game on November 11.
In 13 years in the NFL, including the first nine in Tampa Bay, Sapp posted 695 tackles, 96.5 sacks, four interceptions with one touchdown, 26 passes defensed, 20 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, three blocked field goals, three touchdown receptions and dozens upon dozens of terrified offensive linemen who desperately tried to guard the A, B and C gaps from his quick first step and powerful hands.
“The offensive linemen had a lot to worry about because he had so much more talent than they had and he was a better football player 99 percent of the time,” said former Bucs defensive back Dwight Smith, who was Sapp’s teammate from 2001-03. “It really didn’t take much intimidation because he was going to beat them regardless. That’s why he rarely got one-on-ones because he was going to win. People didn’t sleep at night before playing him.”
Sapp had a mouth that never stopped on field and he would taunt his opponents without mercy for the better part of three hours on Sunday afternoons.
“For Sapp to go out there and tell a person what he’s going to do to him and tell a person how he’s going to take advantage of them, it motivates him even more to go out and destroy the guy in front of him,” said former Bucs defensive tackle Chartric “Chuck” Darby, who started next to Sapp in Super Bowl XXXVII and played with him from 2001-03.
But for all the trash talking and verbal intimidation that Sapp did, he never interrupted an opposing quarterback’s snap count.
“No, because I wanted to hear his cadence,” Sapp said. “You can’t have a get off if you’re talking [expletive]. Don’t believe all the stories. Nobody is talking at the snap. Nobody is grabbing at the bottom of the pile, either. Don’t believe that, either. It’s all a bunch of lore to make us all seem like a bunch of tough guys. The fish tale gets bigger every year.”
Whether it was his athleticism, physicality, his mouth or all three, Sapp intimidated and dominated his way to recording 77 sacks in Tampa Bay, which was two shy of Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon’s franchise record, and 96.5 sacks in his 13-year NFL career, which is the second-most ever by a defensive tackle in the NFL.
“He would walk into every game with it being ‘Advantage Sapp,’” said Bucs general manager Mark Dominik, who joined the organization the same year Sapp did in 1995 when the former Miami defensive tackle was the team’s first pick in the draft with the 12th overall selection. “It quickly went from a one-on-one to it being Sapp vs. a guard and a center. It’s great to see him up on the Ring of Honor because he’s going to be linked with Tampa Bay and the championship and everything we’ve done as an organization. He’s a big part of it.”
FAB 2. Not only did Sapp intimidate opponents with his loud mouth and brash ways, he also had an affect on his Tampa Bay teammates.
“The fear factor of playing with him as a young player was not being in the position you were supposed to be in,” Smith said. “The number one thing he would say in our huddle was ‘Whose gap was that?’ when we had a breakdown on a running play and gave up a big run. He held you so accountable and he knew what everybody was supposed to do on every play. That’s why his Bucs defense will go down as one of the greatest NFL defenses ever – because of the accountability.”
As ferocious as Sapp was towards opponents, he was also that way towards his fellow Buccaneers. No Tampa Bay player wanted to let him down and face Sapp’s wrath.
“Sapp ruled the locker room with an iron fist,” Darby said. “A lot of players had a lot of respect for him, though. When you can go out there and say what you want to say and it back it up, that means everything to a player. As a young player I looked up to him. He had a big mouth, but he backed up everything he said.”
“I go back to those days with [former defensive line coach] Rod [Marinelli] – that third day [in 1996 doing pass rush drills] when Eric Curry looked at him and said, ‘We’re going to do this every day?’ I’m like, ‘Yes! I don’t have to look at his ass anymore! Get him out of here!” Sapp said. “I said, ‘The last time I had to run a game for you to get your first sack. You went 15 games without a sack, and now you are going to [complain] about pass rushing every day [in practice]? Really? What the hell made you so good that you don’t want to do this every day?!’”
Sapp’s non-stop mouth was abrasive at times, but for the most part his teammates were appreciative of his leadership style.
“Warren’s way was loud,” Moore said. “The group of guys we had at the time was a good group of leaders by example and verbal guys. Warren was a verbal guy – and the loudest, especially in training camp. When you would get to the third week of camp and you walk in for breakfast there was not a soul talking. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone was tired and nobody had anything to say. But as soon as the door opened you could hear Warren talking as soon as he got off the van and came in. He never stopped talking. A lot of time it was the perfect mix of what we needed and when we needed it. The one thing that really made him effective as a leader was that everything that came out of his mouth he backed up in his work ethic and the way he played on the field. The way he talked to guys in the locker room and the way he talked to his teammates he kept guys around him accountable. But the same group of guys would hold him accountable if he had a one-on-one and didn’t win.”
“There are plenty of players that played that liked to talk, but they become a distraction and they don’t show the work ethic and the style of play that he did on a daily basis. Sometimes Sapp would bump heads with guys just because of his personality, but at the same time it served a purpose in keeping everybody in line and everybody accountable more than anything else. Him taking that approach was to call guys out and keep each other accountable. He would say that if we were going to go through this work we would need something to show for it.”
Accountability was huge with Sapp – absolutely huge – and it all started with his mouth.
“I really think talking played a big role,” Darby said. “He always came out before the game started and he started a frenzy. I always remember the games against Green Bay where he would start with the offensive linemen early. He talked the whole game from the first snap on. You have players like Brett Favre saying, ‘Sapp, why won’t you shut up?!’
“The thing about Sapp was that he could back up everything he said. I think his mouth played the biggest factor of his game. He knew that when he ran his mouth he had to back up everything he said. It was his own personal accountability, and it was motivation for him.”
Sapp’s mouth caused some friction between he and defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, which led to some locker room fisticuffs after practice one day in the late 1990s. And Sapp and former Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson verbally sparred with each other in the locker room and through the media.
But most Buccaneers knew not to mess with Sapp for they would lose the war of words with the brash trash-talker from the University of Miami by way of Plymouth, Fla.
“The guys on the other side of the ball like myself, I did my job and kept my mouth shut and Sapp and I got along great,” Moore said. “We never had any issues because he knew I was going to hold up my end of the bargain. That’s how it was in the locker room. The guys that weren’t putting in the time and were trying to cut corners were the ones he would ride consistently. He had a way of doing that. Sapp either pushed them towards greatness or pushed them out the door. He made them uncomfortable to come to work.”
FAB 3. To suggest that Sapp was all talk would be patently unfair. He was all talk and all action.
“I think Sapp is one of those ultimate competitors to the ultimate degree,” Dominik said. “I think he would be a great cage fighter. He wanted to win so bad above all else and he wanted respect, but he wanted to earn it. That’s what makes great players great. Some players assume they are great and don’t want to work for it. The ones that go all the way are the ones that work at it every day and that’s what Sapp did.”
Sapp’s gift of non-stop gab and the way he routinely beat offensive linemen to get to the quarterback frustrated Tampa Bay’s opponents.
“Almost universally from everybody else in the NFL when you talked about Sapp it was that other teams didn’t like him, but they would have loved to have had him,” Dominik said. “Other teams would say, ‘I can’t stand that guy, but I wish he was on my team.’
“He frustrated other teams forever just like Brett Favre used to frustrate us. We couldn’t stand Brett Favre, but we would have loved to have him. Sapp was the same way for our opponents.”
Sapp mouthy ways weren’t just for football players – friend and foe alike. The media wasn’t spared from his occasional wrath in the locker room interview sessions, nor were Bucs fans that wanted an autograph or a picture and caught Sapp at the wrong time and in the wrong mood.
Sapp and I had our share of verbal run-ins, and there were plenty of times he tried to embarrass me and other writers in front of our colleagues and his teammates through intimidation tactics. When Bucs fans would ask me about Sapp, I would sometimes say, ‘I’ll take him every Sunday afternoon, but you can have him Monday through Saturday.”
I never held a grudge towards No. 99 and I never backed down from him (although I couldn’t trade barbs like he could) and think Sapp ultimately respected that. We have a good media-based relationship to this day and I fondly remember the days of covering Sapp, who could be a real moody dude as he would hold court with the media on a weekly basis.
“He was always in character,” Darby said. “Sapp was always in character. You never knew which character you were going to get sometimes, but you knew that he was going to be a hunter, a killer or a bad ass. His character combined with his talent and ability, it spoke for itself.”
Moore noted how Sapp’s mood swings in the locker room and on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place would go from surly and nasty to downright jovial on occasion.
“He was funny sometimes,” Moore said. “But after a few long days of practice that funny wasn’t so funny anymore. Everybody here knows Warren. He was the type of guy – and it was the same for the fans – you either loved him or you hated him. You had the same problem in the locker room sometimes because he was consistently loud, but without question, everybody respected him. When he went out to work every day nobody worked harder than he did.”
While Sapp craved the attention and media adoration, he was not a selfish player at all. To the contrary, he was a great teammate. In addition to being arguably the greatest three-technique defensive tackle of all time, Sapp was a true leader who raised the level of play of those around him.
“I took a vested interest in my team because this is the ultimate team sport,” Sapp said. “No one man standing on the 50-yard line can do a damn thing by himself but stand on the 50-yard line. You can’t snap the ball to yourself. That’s not the way it goes.”
Darby, an unheralded reserve who was signed as an undrafted free agent by Tampa Bay in 2001, wound up starting next to Sapp at nose tackle in the playoffs and in Super Bowl XXXVII when Anthony McFarland, the team’s first-round pick in 1999, was placed on injured reserve late in the 2002 season.
“We were a band of brothers and Sapp was our big brother pulling the youngsters along,” Darby said. “He never looked at you as a first-rounder or an undrafted free agent. You were a Buccaneer and he had your back from Day One. He let you know that if you lined up next to him that you better play like you deserved to be. Sapp was a guy that pushed you, but would also show you the way. Sapp said when you touched the field you were a starter and you represent Buc football. That’s what it’s all about.”
When McFarland went down Sapp suggested the Bucs wouldn’t miss a beat with the tandem of Darby and Buck Gurley rotating in at nose tackle. At the Super Bowl, Sapp said the Bucs would get it done in the middle of the defense with the “Chuck and Buck Show.”
“Of course I loved it when he called it the ‘Chuck and Buck Show,” Darby said. “He always had a way with words. At the end of the day Sapp is a person you can always count on and depend on. I take my hat off to him and congratulate him for the Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor. He’s the man.”
Sapp would help any young player that worked hard and had a passion for the game. Those that didn’t would quickly feel his wrath.
“He respected the game and that was the biggest thing,” Moore said. “I remember one year we were out in mini-camp and there were a couple of younger players laying on the football field waiting for it to start and he went over to them and said, ‘Don’t disrespect the game of football and don’t lay on this football field.’ He didn’t always rub people the right way, but his way of doing things held everybody accountable.”
FAB 4. After Sapp’s Bucs Ring of Honor induction ceremony speech, the legend, who was nicknamed “QB Killa,” entered the media room at One Buccaneer Place and told stories and answered questions from Tampa Bay beat writers, including yours truly. I began reporting on the Buccaneers in 1995, which was the year Sapp was drafted, right after graduating from Kansas State University, so I covered his entire career from orange and white to red and pewter.
It was so fun and interesting going down memory lane with Sapp, arguably the best three-technique tackle to ever play the game, who spent nearly 40 minutes with the reporters. Here are some of the highlights, including Sapp’s recollection of Tampa Bay’s surprise 13-6 upset victory over heavily favored San Francisco at the start of the 1997 season.
“I remember us going 5-3 at the end of the year (1996) and the Yuccs game out in San Diego,” Sapp said, recalling how ESPN’s Chris Berman called the Buccaneers the Yuccaneers prior to the Chargers game. “I remember that summer (of 1997), [Derrick] Brooks and I came in here and we put in some work. [John] Lynchie was with us and we were ready to roll. Then Warrick [Dunn] was with us. We had a little bit of punch and wiggle [on offense].
“For me [the game against the 49ers] was personal. I was a nine-year old kid watching ‘The Catch’ and I was a Cowboys fan. I cried that night and I remember my brothers ragging me for the next three months, saying, ‘You big cry baby! You’re soft!’ I remember driving up to the stadium and I was so focused I forgot to leave my tickets for my homeboys at will call. That was the last time they didn’t take the tickets out of my hands because they went to will call and there weren’t any tickets! I forgot to drop the tickets off I was so focused. [The 49ers] were going to pay for [‘The Catch’].”
In that contest, Sapp helped knock quarterback Steve Young out of the game with a concussion during a sack, and tore wide receiver Jerry Rice’s ACL in his left knee by grabbing his facemask and tackling him on a reverse.
“I was dragging [Young] backwards and Hardy Nickerson’s knee hit him as he went by,” Sapp said. “I had contain and I remember [Rod] Marinelli screaming at me all week and he would turn the tape on and Jerry Rice was running these reverses for touchdowns and four of them were against the Bucs. I was like, ‘[Expletive], he isn’t getting around me.’ I took a bad step and I was thinking, ‘Jerry Rice on that reverse, fat boy!’ I look up and he’s coming. I said, ‘Oh [expletive]!’ I tried to get back and dive out. This finger is still crooked right here. It’s crooked. I look at it every day and it’s crooked because of Jerry Rice’s facemask. That pinkie right there caught it. The ref threw the flag and then I looked back and asked Jerry if he was all right and he didn’t say anything. That’s when I knew something was wrong.”
If you want to relive those dramatic plays, click this link for highlights from the Bucs’ 13-6 victory over the 49ers.
One of the other topics that were discussed was Sapp’s luke warm relationship with longtime defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Sapp initially didn’t like Kiffin upon his arrival in 1996 because he would get taken out of the game on third down. That prompted him to go to head coach Tony Dungy to make some changes happen.
“It was Monte Kiffin that was taking me out on third down or calling ‘Bark’ while I was looping out wide and Ronde [Barber] was blitzing out of the slot,” Sapp said. “So I called T.D. and I said, ‘If I’m going to take double teams on first and second down I must be allowed to rush on third down. He said, ‘You got it’ and that’s how we went about it.
“I said, ‘If we’re going to be the team we’re going to be, third down has to be mine,” Sapp said. “I’ll give you whatever you want on first and second down. I’ll hold the double team. I’ll spill it – I’ll do whatever you want me to. I’m with you, but third down has got to be mine. Damn, Kiffin is drawing it up in the dirt. I don’t need it drawn up in the dirt! We’re sending four [at the quarterback] and dropping seven [in coverage]. That’s how we went about it. I told Kiffin: ‘Blitz on first down if you want to! (laughs)’ Get me to third-and-12 so I can really have fun!”
To say that the personalities of Sapp and Kiffin didn’t always mesh would be accurate.
“Fire and ice,” Sapp said of his relationship with Kiffin. “It could be hot as all outdoors or it could be cold like the Antarctic.”
When asked what made it hot and cold, Sapp said, “Him! I’m a pretty easy guy. I’m not a waffler. You normally get the same guy [with me].
“He wanted to be known as a defensive coordinator. The only way you get known as a defensive coordinator is for your blitzes and your blitz packages. We were in the middle of Raymond James Stadium [during a game] and he was describing a damn blitz on a damn Jerry Ulm Dodge commercial on the damn [Jumbotron]!”
Sapp implied that Kiffin’s ego got in the way during his time in Tampa Bay.
“I know why Kiffin came out of the skybox so now he would have a face,” Sapp said. “You know when they show a coach in the skybox [on TV] they have to circle him [with the telestrator] because you can barely see him. But when you are on the sidelines throwing your hat they can see you now! I was with the man from Day One. When you here and there, and a different guy, I can see that.”
When asked to describe his relationship with Kiffin these days Sapp said: “We’re good. We’re not great, but we’re good. Like anybody, you want to call blitzes and I want to rush four men. We have different philosophies.”
You’ve got to love Sapp’s no-holds-barred approach when it comes to discussing football, his career and his time in Tampa Bay. I certainly did for nine years as Sapp is easily the most interesting Buccaneer I’ve ever covered as a beat writer.
FAB 5. Here are a few Warren Sapp-related things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Sapp always had a way of showing up big in big games as a Buccaneer. But as Dominik points out, he was that way all the way back in college as a Miami Hurricane.
“If you go back to college and the way that he dominated the Orange Bowl against Nebraska for three quarters until the end … when the lights were on, Sapp was hot,” Dominik said. “He was always like that. He played big in every big game he played in. Just remember the San Francisco game where be basically wrecked the 49ers in two plays and started the entire process for the team that we became in 1997. He always played big when it was important, but he always played great throughout his career.
“I’m so happy for Warren with the Ring of Honor announcement, and now we have doubled our Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions and I know we have more to come. That’s exciting.”
• The Glazers retired Sapp’s number on Thursday when they made the announcement that no one was ever going to wear a Buccaneers uniform with No. 99 on it ever again. Sapp recalled a phone conversation he had with former Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden, who adored Sapp.
“I got a call from Gruden like two years after I left,” Sapp said. “He said, ‘You’re not going to believe this. Somebody came in here and asked for your number.’ I said, ‘What?! What did you say?’ Gruden said, ‘Leave my office fast! You think I want to look at that number running around here without [Sapp] in it?’ I said, ‘That sounds pretty cool, Jonny!’ [Gruden] was the first one that said he wasn’t going to allow anyone to wear my number anymore.”
• Sapp talked about how the Bucs defense was built for greatness with speed by Dungy when he arrived in 1996, and how the litany of assistant coaches under Dungy wanted to ensure that Tampa Bay’s defense kept getting better.
“It was our calling card,” Sapp said. “We were going to be faster, smarter and more physical than you at all points that we played. [Dungy] engrained that in us. And then when he went away I think Monte took it even more personal, and I know Rod did. And then Joe Barry and Mike Tomlin took us to whole new level because they actually challenged Brooks and Lynch.
“Mike T. walks in the door and hands Lynch a piece of paper that says ’50 Ways To Get Better As A Strong Safety.’ Lynch comes up to me and says, ‘Sapp, you won’t believe this!’ I said, ‘What’s going on?’ Lynch was fire red [because he was so mad because he was already great] and I took it and read it and I said to him, ‘50 Ways To Get Better As A Strong Safety … you have your work cut out for you then! (Laughs)’”
• And finally, when asked what was Sapp’s best game he ever played in, he told the reporter, “I’ve got 13 years of them – pick one and enjoy yourself!”
Well said, Warren. Congratulations on a legendary career in Tampa Bay and the NFL.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR’s Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons’ Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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