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The best the league has to offer

Tampa Bay, which had a record season, puts a record number of players on the All-Pro first team.

Alstott Brooks Lynch Sapp

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 9, 2000


TAMPA -- Not everyone is enamored with the Buccaneers' playoff chances. But there is no shortage of admiration for the Bucs' players.

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Defensive tackle Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety John Lynch and fullback Mike Alstott were recognized as the best at their positions Saturday by being named to the NFL All-Pro first team by the Associated Press.

The four first-team selections are one shy of the number the Bucs had from 1976-98. It also ties the Bucs with the Rams for the most players on the '99 squad.

Alstott was a first-team fullback in '97 and '98. Linebacker Hardy Nickerson was on the first team in '93 and '97. Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon was honored in '78.

The '99 team was selected by a nationwide panel of 50 media members. "I can't express it in words because it hasn't sunk in," Brooks said. "But I'm thankful to God for the award, first and foremost. It's just really extra motivation to me for my game knowing that I'm recognized as the top guy. I've got to go out there and show up each week like I've been doing. It brings excitement, and at the same time, responsibility.

"It's a tremendous honor. I think the Pro Bowl is special but All-Pro is even more special because you're regarded as the top of your position in the league and I think the fact that three of my teammates are as well speaks volumes for our team."

In December, Sapp, Brooks, Lynch and Alstott and Nickerson were voted to start for the NFC in the Pro Bowl on Feb. 6. Center Tony Mayberry was named to his third straight Pro Bowl as a reserve.

After a lackluster '98 season, Sapp shed 40 pounds in the off-season and led the Bucs defense, No. 3 overall in the NFL, with 12.5 sacks, missing the club record of 13 held by Selmon since 1977. He also had career highs in tackles (50), forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2). Sapp received 46 votes, tying him for second with Jacksonville tackle Tony Boselli. Only St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk (47) had more. Brooks, who received 34 votes, led the Bucs with 180 tackles (122 solo) and set career highs in interceptions (4), passes defensed (18), forced fumbles (2) and sacks (2).

Lynch, who received 25 votes, made a game-saving deflection Nov. 21 against Atlanta and returned an interception 24 yards against the Lions to set up Alstott's winning touchdown catch on Dec. 12. He led the secondary with 128 tackles.

"Lynch has always been a wrecking ball since the day I walked in here," Sapp said. "And Brooks is the best outside linebacker in the game. He and I compete with each other as much as we can." Alstott, who received 28 votes, had his best season. He set career highs in rushing yardage (949) and led the Bucs with nine TDs (seven rushing, two receiving).

"I hope it does say something about the ball club," Lynch said. "I think it says that people out there are respecting us now and I think, more than anything, it's a reflection that we played the game the way it's supposed to be played. We play hard.

"I know the AP votes on the All-Pro and it's a great honor. All I want to do is continue to play at that level and I'm very happy at the year I had personally.

"All these honors are great, but I'll tell you what, I'll give them all up for the championship. That's what's on my mind."

-- Staff writer Roger Mills, Times wires contributed to this report.

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