Still Regarded As A ‘Warrior’

By Ira Kaufman
Updated: January 5, 2008

TAMPA — Buccaneers players and coaches took a refreshing pause from their playoff preparation to salute a franchise cornerstone.

Defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who earned seven consecutive Pro Bowls during a nine-year career with the Bucs, told Oakland owner Al Davis he is retiring at the age of 35.

“I spent only one year here in Tampa with the man, but to me, Warren Sapp is the Michael Jordan of the 3-technique,” Bucs center John Wade said. “He loved the game, he understood the game and I respected him big-time as a player. He made everyone rev it up just by walking out on the grass.”

After Sapp signed with the Raiders as a free agent in 2004, Oakland won only 15 games during his time there. The constant losing frustrated Sapp to the point where he was kicked out of a game in Jacksonville on Dec. 23 with the Jaguars ahead 28-3 late in the opening half.

“Losing can wear on you,” said Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, linked with Sapp since they arrived together in Tampa as first-round picks in the 1995 draft. “I hated to see Warren’s football team go through that.”

“As of right now, he says he’s done and I believe him. Looking back, to have our careers take off at the same time is something I consider a blessing.”

Sapp was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and he developed into the prototypical under-tackle in the league’s premier defensive scheme, disrupting plays in the backfield and registering 46.5 sacks within a glittering four-year span.

“To me, he set the standard for the position,” said Lions head coach Rod Marinelli, who motivated Sapp and, in turn, drew inspiration from No. 99 as Tampa Bay’s former defensive line coach.

“Everybody is looking for the next Warren Sapp. Guess what? There’s only one. There will never again be another under-tackle in our league who puts an entire franchise on his back.”

In Tampa, Sapp combined with Brooks and safety John Lynch to form the linchpins of Monte Kiffin’s relentless defense.

“Warren’s a warrior now,” Kiffin said. “He came to work every day fired up. He’s just a special guy who loves football. The guy knows the history of the game and he’s unbelievably intelligent. He took the 3-technique to another level. Along with Brooks and Lynch, he turned this program around.”

When Jon Gruden replaced Tony Dungy as coach in 2002, he knew he had to win Sapp over to earn credibility in a Tampa Bay locker room stocked with veterans.

“I love him,” Gruden said Friday, “and I’m sorry to hear that he’s retiring. Football needs Warren Sapp. He had a great career and I’d like to thank him for everything he did for me and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s a sad day for me personally and he’ll always be welcome around here.”

Gruden said it would be a great gesture for the organization to offer Sapp a one-day contract so he can retire as a Buccaneer.

While honing his game at Boston College, Chris Hovan admired Sapp from afar. That respect grew once Tampa Bay’s defensive tackle entered the league with Minnesota in 2000.

“He’s the man,” Hovan said. “You look at the guys who changed their position in this league and you think of Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Brooks at linebacker and John Randle and Warren Sapp at defensive tackle. When I think about Warren Sapp, I’m thinking about the man who set the bar.”

Sapp led by example in Tampa, developing a friendly rivalry with Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre while establishing a fierce larger-than-life persona.

His 2002 blindside hit that leveled Packers tackle Chad Clifton during Brian Kelly’s interception return didn’t draw a penalty flag, yet then-Green Bay coach Mike Sherman blasted Sapp, saying there was no place in the game for a block Sherman deemed “inappropriate.”

Sapp never apologized or contacted the lineman while Clifton recuperated from a separated pelvis. If Sapp remains retired, he’ll be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013.

Brooks, Kiffin and Marinelli have little doubt Sapp deserves recognition in the Canton, Ohio, shrine of excellence.

“He’s Sapp, he’s just Sapp,” cornerback Ronde Barber said Friday. “He defines the Buccaneers … the swagger, the excellence.”