After a sterling career at the University of Miami, Sapp was in line to make an impact on the NFL when before the draft, a report was leaked that Sapp had failed drug tests which affected his status. Even though he was the Big East Defensive Players of the Year, an All American, and winner of both the Nagurski and Lombardi Awards, 11 teams passed on him on draft day. He was projected to go number 1 and fell to the “Yucs” at #12. You could see the disappointment in his face. The picture above was once they were in Tampa for the press conference.
Why the “Yucs”?? This team had been laughingstocks for most of their history up to that point. For 12 years, from 1983-1994 the team had double-digit losses.
What didn’t bode well for Warren Sapp that day was the fuel to what burned as motivation for Sapp the rest of his career. He started slowly but by his 2nd season, he made his presence felt with 51 tackles, 9 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Since he was one with a big mouth and part of the “in your face generation” that hit the NFL in the mid to late 90’s it took time to gain acceptance. He should have made the Pro Bowl in ’96 but the Buccaneers were 6-10 and still a loser.
All that changed in 1997 as the team rolled out to a 5-0 start. In the opener against San Francisco, they knocked out both Steve Young and Jerry Rice in a 13-6 win. Sapp had relentlessly been involved in both plays. He began the season on everyone’s radar with a 2 1/2 sack performance. In a frightening display of power and speed, Warren and the Bucs in their new uniforms showed a new day was dawning in Tampa.
They had throttled an offense that had been one of the NFL’s best for two decades and knocked Jerry Rice out for the season. Those two points alone had NFL shows talking about the 49ers, the Bucs, and especially Warren Sapp. No longer was he just one for on-field antics that made a few defensive plays, he was maturing into the best interior lineman in football. In ’97 he finished with 58 tackles, 10 1/2 sacks along with 3 forced fumbles and 1 recovery. They finished with a 10-6 record and a defensive ranking of #3. Earning Tampa its first playoff berth in 14 years.
After defeating the Lions for their first playoff win since 1979, they made the pilgrimmage to Lambeau Field for a divisional playoff against the defending Super bowl Champion Packers. Many weren’t taking the Bucs too serious. You have to understand the stigma they were trying to shed. Further evidence was the fact that 5 of their 6 losses had come from within the NFC Central. Sure they beat an inconsistent Detroit in the Wild Card 20-10. Many thought the Bucs would be happy just getting to the divisional round. Where Favre, White, Joyner and company were eyeing back to back championships and should plow through the neophyte Bucs. Besides, it would be 27* and Tampa hadn’t won a game where it was under 40* ever.
What took place on a dreary day in Green Bay was a young Lion standing toe to toe with an old warrior for 60 brutal minutes of football. In the signature game that defined his career, Sapp was all over Brett Favre and the Packer offense. He amassed 3 sacks and a fumble recovery. After each time he stopped a running play or harassed Favre, the two talked trash to each other and a national television audience witnessed the coming of the Bucs.
Inspired by Sapp’s lead by example, the Bucs, who had fallen behind 13-0, refused to be buried and began to believe they could win. Although they fell just 21-7, many saw a future champion in Tampa. On this day, he wrested the defensive leader mantle from Nickerson and placed it on himself. He was the face of the franchise and the entire off-season, his performance in that playoff loss to Green Bay seemed to be all people were talking about.
What we saw that day were two of the NFL’s best playing high stakes football as though it were being played in a backyard somewhere. The little brother Bucs led by Warren passionately jawing and playing with the favored big brother Packers led by Brett. Tony Dungy had tuned his team to the point they needed to catch and beat Green Bay in their growth as a club. So the playoff game was played like it was a Super Bowl.
In 1999, Sapp had the best season of his career. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year for his 41 tackle, 12 1/2 sacks, and 4 forced fumble performance. He led the Bucs back to the NFL playoffs, this time making it to the NFC Championship Game. Although an 11-6 loss to the Rams kept them from Super Bowl glory, Sapp led his team there at the conclusion of the 2002 season.
The victory in Super Bowl XXXVII validated many careers and vindicated one Warren Sapp. Eight years before he was embarrassed at the NFL draft amid rumors of drug use and having his character in question after his years in Miami. To some they still saw him as a big-mouthed player that was more show than substance. That Super Bowl victory made them have to acknowledge him as a champion. Critics had to give him his due as the best “three” technique defensive tackle of his time.
For his career he amassed 573 tackles, 96 1/2 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, 12 recoveries, and 4 interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Since the NFL is about sack totals for most pundits, he’s second only behind former Viking and Hall of Fame member John Randle. Whom he played with many times in Hawai’i where he made 7 trips to the Pro Bowl. Sapp wanted to be remembered like a Joe Greene. A true giant of the game.
Right after Super Bowl XXXVII, Sapp said we had to put his Bucs up there with the greatest defenses to play in the NFL. Can that point be argued??
- ’85 Chicago Bears – #1 defense / allowed 258.4 yards per game /allowed 198 points for the season / 64 sacks / 34 ints / scored 6 TDs defensively
- ’00 Baltimore Ravens -#2 defense / allowed 247.9 yards per game /allowed 165 points for the season / 43 sacks /23 ints/ 1TD scored defensively
- ’02 Tampa Buccaneers – #1 defense / allowed 252.8 yards per game / allowed 196 points for the season / 43 sacks/ 31 ints /scored 5TDs defensively
- ’78 Pittsburgh Steelers – #3 defense / allowed 260.5 yards per game /allowed 198 points for the season/ / 27 ints /1 TD scored defensively
On second thought an argument can be made for the 2002 Tampa By defense as among the best of the Super Bowl era. One point that can’t be is the selection of Warren Sapp as a Hall of Famer.
For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, from The [[_]], Warren Sapp aka QB Killa
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