Sapp eager to face challenges of road game
Updated: Friday December 29, 2000 10:48 PM
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Warren Sapp has never been one to take challenges lightly.
When head coach Tony Dungy wrote him a letter last winter, listing the things Sapp could do to improve after a season in which he was the NFL's defensive player of the year, the heart of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vowed to get it done.
When assistant coach Rod Marinelli sat the defensive linemen down at the start of training camp to watch a highlight film entitled "Almost, But No Cigar," Sapp took note of the plays he didn't make during the Bucs' run to the NFC championship game.
"It was all the sacks we had missed," the 6-2, 303-pound tackle recalled. "He said, keep track because you want to count these. Out of the first 10 plays, I had eight."
Driven by Dungy's letter, Marinelli's tape and Tampa Bay's hopes of becoming the first team to appear in the Super Bowl in its own stadium, Sapp has enjoyed his best season.
He set a franchise record for sacks with 16 1/2, tying for second in the NFL with Miami's Trace Armstrong. New Orleans' La'Roi Glover led the league with 17, the second-highest total ever for a defensive tackle.
The Bucs won seven of their last nine games to overcome a 3-4 start and make the playoffs for the third time in four years. Sapp was a driving force, sparking the team five weeks ago with critical remarks about the then-struggling offense.
"You've got to go out and autograph your performance. I want to do that each week because if I don't, there's no way you can lead somebody because nobody's going to follow you," he said.
The Bucs responded to his comments by winning four in a row, including a thrilling 38-35 victory against the Rams in a rematch of last season's NFC championship game.
"I wish I had done it a little earlier, maybe we'd be sitting home with a bye right now," Sapp said.
But the Bucs (10-6) wasted an opportunity to claim the NFC Central, a first-round bye and assure themselves of at least one home game in the playoffs when Martin Gramatica missed a 40-yard field goal in the closing seconds of regulation of a 17-14 overtime loss at Green Bay last week.
The defeat means Tampa Bay mighty have to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl.
"That's the challenge. And one thing we've always been good at is only worrying about things we can control. And the one thing we can control now is how well we prepare to go to Philly and play on Sunday," Sapp said.
He expects Tampa Bay's postseason experience to be a factor against Philadelphia (11-5), which is in the playoffs for the first time in four years.