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Retirements (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday March 12, 2008 12:06PM; Updated: Thursday March 13, 2008 2:05AM
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Warren Sapp was known for his mouth as much as his play during a 13-year career.
Warren Sapp was known for his mouth as much as his play during a 13-year career.
Robert Beck/SI
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Warren Sapp's world was different. He came out of the University of Miami as an All-American, winner of the Lombardi Award, Nagurski Award, practically every award that had someone over 220 pounds attached to it. He was going to be right up there at the tippy top of the draft, but there was one little problem. Marijuana stories, what the scouts call "baggage attached." I remember talking to the Jets' coach, Rich Kotite, who said before the draft, "I've gotta have him."

"You won't have the guts to pick him," I said.

"Bet you a cigar on it," Kotite said.

The Jets took tight end Kyle Brady with the ninth pick. Sapp went to Tampa Bay at No .12. I'm still waiting to collect my cigar.

He played the under tackle position on the defensive line, where his quickness made him a valuable pass rusher. The heavy duty work of the nose tackle went to Brad Culpepper, later Anthony McFarland. Sapp didn't bother much with the run, but he was a problem for the pass blockers on downs when he felt like rushing. I think I picked him on my all-pro team once.

When the Bucs lost to the Rams, 11-6, in the Divisional Championship, I was in their locker room. Sapp yelled at me across the room, "What do I have to do to make your team?"

"Play the run," I yelled back. He went bonkers. "Play the run...play the run...hear what that guy said," and on and on.

That night I was back in the hotel room, writing my story. My redheaded wife asked me what the locker room was like and I told her about the exchange. She shook her head.

"The guy had just played the toughest game of his life," she said, "and you had to give him that glib crap in the locker room. Couldn't you just have said something nondescript. I mean, I don't blame him."

After I'd finished my story I thought it over. By golly, she's right. I sat down and wrote him a letter, care of the club. Kind of fatherly. I said I had always expected so much more from him, that's why I was overly critical, and so forth.

His response was a noise like an oyster.

Three years later, in 2002, he got into that thing with Packer tackle Chad Clifton. It was one of the meanest, filthiest plays I've ever seen on a field. Sapp took a 20-yard run at him, on a Buc interception, while his back was turned, and blindsided him with such ferocity that he left his feet, delivering the block. Clifton went to the hospital with a dislocated hip. There was no call. Gutless officials aren't exactly new to the game. The penalty for such plays is called unnecessary roughness. A play that is not necessary, get it? It's in the books. And they were far away from the action.

Sapp is a glib, witty person who will make a colorful TV announcer some day, but after that play I've never been able to think of him with any kind of respect.

He played as hard as he felt like in his four-year stint with the Raiders. Sometimes he seemed to have his old quickness back. Now he's gone.

Hooray!

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