"So I'm playing, and I'm good. I'm about to hit a million. The phone rings. I know it's my mother, but I figure I'm about to hit a million, so I can take this whuppin'. I'm playing, I'm going, I'm going...still trying to get a million and getting close, and Al, the store owner, says, 'Your mother says come home right now!' And I froze for a second, and as I froze—oop!—the ball went right down. I looked up. I was just six from a million. I walked out, and I'm thinking, I didn't get a million and I'm going to get a whuppin'. Boy, it ain't a good day today."
Once during football practice at Apopka High, Sapp looked up to see his mother marching onto the field. She told the coach her son wouldn't play anymore unless his grades rose. He said, O.K., O.K., O.K. "A tremendous lady," says Chip Gierke, the coach. "Pretty much a lady of proper priorities."
When he was in ninth grade, she came upon Sapp getting beat up at the bus stop. "That Washington boy was hitting Carlos, and he wasn't even hitting back," she says. "I told Carlos to just go on home. I told him, Never start a fight, but don't let anybody hit you without fighting back."
Sapp took her on many of his college recruiting visits. He wouldn't hire his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, until his mother met him and approved. Asked why he left Miami after his junior year, forgoing the '95 season, Sapp becomes deadly serious. "I saw a way for my mother to retire," he says softly. "She's been working a long time. I'm her last kid, her last shot, and I have an opportunity for her to kick up her feet and say, 'I don't have to go to work today if I don't want to.' "
Roberts doesn't say much about the cocaine allegation. There was no heart attack, no nervous breakdown. Once she calmed down, Roberts was sure her son was clean. When they finally spoke Tuesday afternoon, she joked with Sapp, told him she loved him, told him this: "If you run into trouble, you can come to me."
For the first time in 24 hours, Warren Sapp smiled wide. "I didn't care about anything else," he says, laughing, "as long as my old girl knew!"
Sapp ambles down a sidewalk in South Miami. A school bus goes by: Two kids hang out the windows and wave. Men—young, old—pass by and say go get 'em, or don't worry. It doesn't seem like anything's changed. But it has. "I get just a little bit more stare now—'Is that him?' " Sapp says. A kid slides past, eyes flicker. "See? Just a little bit more stare. I just go on. Life goes on. As long as you don't let anything hammer you or keep you down, just be yourself and let life go on. Because it will go on."
"What's up, Warren?" a man asks.
"All right," Sapp says. Then he adds, "That's the two-second glance he gave me. That's it."
Sapp's agent says the two of them are considering suing The New York Times, but Sapp isn't so sure. "They made a mistake," he says. "That's all I'd like: Admit you made a mistake. That's being a man, saying, 'I've learned.' And they're saying, 'No, no, we got it right.'? Dead wrong."