Outspoken personality has made Sapp a winner in NFL
For the first 20 years of their existence, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been considered the laughing stock of the NFL.
In 1995, during the tail end of their drought, the ‘Bucs selected University of Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp in the first-round, in what was considered a risky move. Tampa Bay personnel, however, saw Sapp as a building block for a future Super Bowl team.
Eight years later, Sapp and the Buccaneers finally put an end to decades of frustration, as Tampa Bay defeated the Oakland Raiders 48-21 Sunday in the Super Bowl. The former Hurricane, a longtime vocal leader in the Tampa Bay locker room, forced a fumble, and helped spearhead the Tampa Bay defense that caused all sorts of problems for Rich Gannon and the Raiders’ offense.
“We emerged from the ridicule and heartbreak put upon this organization, to evolving into a playoff team that no one thought could take the next step,” Sapp said. “We took that next step, and now we are world champions, and that is something nobody can ever take away.”
Known for his outspokenness, Sapp originally wanted to be a lawyer growing up, using his ability to talk his way out of anything to his advantage. Sapp did not even begin to play football until his sophomore year in high school. However, those few years were enough to alter Sapp’s career plans.
“Getting to know people like yourself, meeting hall of fame players of the game you really admire, gives you that good fuzzy feeling all over,” Sapp said. “It’s really a game of relationships and building friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Sapp enrolled at the University of Miami and quickly became a prominent player on the team. Originally, the 30-year old arrived in Miami as a tight end, before head coach Dennis Erickson moved him to defensive tackle. In three years with the Hurricanes, Sapp recorded 19.5 sacks and 176 tackles, while forcing and recovering four fumbles.
Those numbers solidified Sapp as one of the nation’s best defensive players, and also opened the door to some recognition as well. Sapp became UM’s first Lombardi Award winner in 1994 as the nation’s best interior lineman, and was announced an All-American his junior season. Sapp also took home the Bronko Nagurski Award as college football’s top defensive player.
After joining the ‘Bucs organization in 1995, Sapp picked the number 99, sharing it with one of the players he looked up to most, Jerome Brown of the Philadelphia Eagles, a player whom Sapp often drew comparisons to. One of Sapp’s fondest memories was the day Brown came to visit.
“It was a dream come true,” Sapp said. “When I answered my door, I stumbled back for a moment taking in the sight of the great Jerome Brown coming to visit little old me at Miami.”
This season, Sapp earned a spot in the Pro Bowl for the sixth consecutive year, a feat only matched by Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks, and Lee Roy Selmon in the history of the Tampa Bay organization. He has also been named to the All-Pro team by the Associated Press each of the past four seasons. Now, Sapp has his ultimate piece of hardware: a Super Bowl ring. “I think this championship validates us all as a defense, because for the last six or seven years we’ve been the staple that you must measure up to. ‘Can you play defense like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?'” Sapp said. “The Purple People Eaters and the Fearsome Foursome are not talked about in the same light as they do the Steal Curtain. They were champions, and championships are the key factors that define you in this league.”
Sapp finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks, and led Tampa defensive linemen with 78 tackles. Although Sapp’s sack totals haven’t been as high over the past couple years, the former ‘Cane still has found a way to break through opposing offensive lines on a regular basis. This season, Sapp had two multi-sack games against Cincinnati and Cleveland and also reached a milestone of different sorts, starting his 100th career game in the season opener against New Orleans.
While Sapp has great respect for his teammates, no one has earned the defensive tackle’s stamp of approval more then head coach John Gruden.
“He has to be our messiah,” Sapp said. “We gave up four draft picks, four million dollars, and the team even considered giving up me. He’s got to be the man to take us where we need to go, and here we are.”
In addition to winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history, the ‘Bucs defense has been called one of the greatest in NFL history. Sapp expects his team to stay on top for more than just one year.
“Not many people can say they came into a ball club, stayed on the same team for their whole career and ended on top of the list,” Sapp stated. “If I’m on my game, we’re awfully hard to beat.”
-You can reach Dana Strokovsky at Hoopg1rl6@aol.com.