Warren Sapp was the Mouth of the South with a bark equal to his bite.
Sapp terrorized both offensive linemen and quarterbacks for 13 seasons, which will culminate in a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday.
Sapp had a unique combination of size and speed for a defensive tackle. At 6’2” and 312 pounds, Sapp once recorded a 40-yard dash time of 4.69 seconds. Mixing that kind of strength with speed made him a formidable foe for any offensive lineman to go against.
After a stellar college career at the University of Miami, which saw him win the Lombardi, Bronko Nagurski and Bill Willis awards, Sapp was drafted 12th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the 1995 NFL draft. At the time, a lot of analysts considered this pick a steal given the kind of talent Sapp possessed.
However, it was rumored that Sapp failed multiple drug tests before the draft, which potentially caused his draft stock to plummet. Sapp has always denied the claim.
Sapp quickly took the NFL by storm, recording 12 sacks in his first two seasons. In 1997, in the third year of his career, Sapp recorded 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He helped lead a unit that finished second in scoring defense that season, giving up just 16.4 points per game. The Buccaneers reached the divisional round of the playoffs, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers, 21-7.
After somewhat of a down year in 1998, Sapp and the Buccaneers bounced back in 1999 and 2000. Sapp, statistically, put in his best two seasons. In 1999, en route to the Buccaneers reaching the NFC Championship Game, he picked up 12.5 sacks, forced four fumbles and was named that season’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2000, Sapp recorded a season-best 16.5 sacks and was named to another Pro Bowl. All in all, Sapp reached the NFL’s All-Star game seven consecutive years.
But it was in 2002 when Sapp got to be a part of something the majority of NFL players dream of: a Super Bowl championship.
Sapp produced many highlights that season. Against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5, quarterback Doug Johnson had his pass tipped near the 15-yard line. Sapp, on the defensive line, made a play on the ball and intercepted it. About to be tackled, Sapp lateraled the ball back to linebacker Derrick Brooks, who took the ball into the end zone for a defensive touchdown.
In the Super Bowl, Tampa Bay’s defense stifled the Oakland Raiders’ high-powered attack to 21 points and 269 total yards. Sapp recorded one of the Buccaneers’ five sacks. Tampa Bay won 48-21, with 12 of Oakland’s points coming in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand.
Sapp played one more season with Tampa Bay in 2003 and saw his sack total dip to just five for the year. He became a free agent and signed with Oakland, where he spent his last four years.
In total, Sapp recorded 438 tackles, 96.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries and four interceptions.
Sapp was also known for his boisterous behavior. During the 2002 season, he skipped through the Pittsburgh Steelers while they were warming up. This rattled the feathers of some of the Steelers’ players to where some approached him wanting to fight.
Sapp’s most famous rivalry with another player was with former Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who had the same reputation for running his mouth at opposing players. In his autobiography, “Sapp Attack,” the big defensive lineman mentioned that the first time Favre spoke to him during a game was in 1999.
The two would banter back and forth every time they played each other. If you believe what Sapp said on "The Sports Car with Dave Dameshek," a semi-normal conversation about Sapp's weight was one of the topics these two icons covered. Sapp was known for his trash talk, which has continued to a degree in his analyst career with the NFL Network.
“[Former Buccaneers defensive end Simeon Rice] didn’t rush the worst lineman,” Sapp said this past June. “You know the right tackle is the worst of the five. Strahan played right end his first four years. When they were putting the label on him as a bust, they put ‘B-U-S. OK, let’s transition him on the other side and see if he can play in his fourth year.’”
The banter between Sapp and Strahan even flowed onto Twitter for the public to watch in real time.
Whatever his beef with Strahan was, that’s Sapp being himself. He never sought out friendships or seemed to care what others thought of him.
But he sure could play football at an elite level.
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