I had an opportunity to meet Warren Sapp outside of team functions. He was in a mall, on his cell phone and looking a little agitated. For a moment, I thought of going up to him, extending my hand and saying, "Hey Warren, you're a great ball player, thank you for bringing the Bucs to respectability."
Then I realized who I was going to say this to - Warren Sapp. He didn't need my confirmation of his greatness, nor my thanks for all that he had done for the Buccaneers. Frankly, he could give two flips about what I thought of him. Further, I knew that if you wanted to speak with Sapp you needed to do it at the stadium, a team sponsored event (such as Fanfest) or in the locker room.
Some poor souls tried to approach Sapp for an autograph. He turned his back on them. When they continued to pester him, he walked out the door.
That was Sapp in public. He once said, "When I'm on that field, I'll give you everything I got. But my time is my time."
If you thought Sapp reserved his disdain for the fans, you're wrong. If you were interviewing Sapp and caught him on the wrong day, he'd go out of his way to make you look foolish or embarrass you. Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report once told me you had to have thick skin to deal with personalities like Sapp.
That type of attitude rubbed many fans the wrong way. It shouldn't. Sapp was a man-beast, the QB-Killah ready to destroy any enemy you put in front of him.
He wasn't there to be an ambassador for the game. Derrick Brooks was the Godfather and John Lynch "the hitting white boy". Mike Alstott was "Up the Gut" and "The A Train". Those were your ambassadors. Sapp was the warrior. He would rally his defensive line and let them know that the team in front of them couldn't stop them. He, with Brooks and Lynch, demanded perfection. If you failed to give it to him, he'd let you know it, once telling a teammate on the practice field, "You're about as dumb as a box of rocks," and much, much worse.
While Warren never wanted to be a Buccaneer - he became one of the crucial points in the franchise's history and now is a Buc for life.
Number Ninety-Nine will be retired this season and his name placed on the Bucs' Ring of Honor. More importantly, he'll join the late great Lee Roy Selmon as the second player in Franchise history who played the majority of his games in a Buccaneer uniform and "went in as a Buc".
Talking about Warren Sapp the football player isn't enough. You have to see him. If you thought Ndamukong Suh was a dominant defensive tackle - he couldn't hold a candle to what Warren did to offenses.
He revolutionized the three-technique. The Cover Two employed by the Pittsburgh Steelers and other teams in the past was re-branded to the Tampa Two because of Sapp, Brooks, Lynch and Barber. Many teams tried to emulate what the Bucs did - but none had the success the Bucs did with the defense.
You talk about the great defenses in NFL history, few have ever achieved what the Buccaneers did.
From 1996-2005 - ten straight seasons of top 10 finishes in total defense, including number one in their championship year (2002). A feat that wasn't achieved by the Steel Curtain of the 70's. Or the Bears of the 80's. Or the Ravens of the 2000's.
Perhaps the greatest defense in Tampa Bay history - the 1999 team - was led by Sapp's 12.5 sacks and NFL Defensive Player of the Year and had dismantled one of the greatest offenses in NFL history - the greatest show on turf. Had the Bucs had any offensive support that season - Tampa Bay would have been in the Super Bowl that year.
He'd follow up that year with a 16.5 sack season, setting the franchise record that stands today.
Sapp made the Pro Bowl 7 times and was a six time All-Pro.
He left the Buccaneers just 1.5 sacks shy of Lee Roy's record for career sacks as a Buccaneer (78.5). He would finish his NFL career with 96.
The chants of "Warrrrrren....Warrrrrrren..Warrrrren..." still echo in the stadium he help built.
He takes his rightful place among the games immortals like Lee Roy and one of his personal idols, Deacon Jones. Don't worry Warren, your boys will be coming soon. You won't be the only Buccaneer defender from the Dungy era in the Hall.