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Sapp: 'Let's go play ball'

Bucs defensive leader is angry about how recent seasons ended - especially that loss in Philadelphia.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Warren Sapp said the additions of Simeon Rice and Kenyatta Walker make the team more competitive at the line of scrimmage.
TAMPA -- He takes his stance in practice at defensive tackle and stares into the eyes of a new quarterback.

He looks to his right and sees a new speed rushing defensive end. He loops to the outside on a stunt and is blocked by an athletic rookie left tackle.

You don't have to remind Warren Sapp of all the improvements the Bucs made in the off-season. He is surrounded by them.

But while others hail the moves as genius, Sapp is not nearly as generous.

"We don't have any championships around here, so what do we have to stand pat on?" Sapp asked. "The '99 divisional championship? Nah. That's not where we are. There's a mentality on this ballclub that Tony (Dungy) always steers us in the right direction as far as a championship.

"Let's go do it. I'm sick about talking about it. Let's go play ball. I can't wait for this one to get going."

Sapp, who has lost 27 pounds since the playoff loss at Philadelphia, is hungry for a Super Bowl appearance.

"I'll tell you what, from the last three years of playing this game and getting the people we get and everybody is saying we're the team to beat for the third year in a row, something's got to change," Sapp said.

"We didn't have many holes to begin with. But the people that we did add in Brad Johnson, (Kenyatta) Walker and Simeon Rice ... it makes us more competitive up front. That's where it starts and finishes on this ballclub."

If the Bucs have demonstrated a new attitude and commitment, it has less to do with the acquisitions of Johnson, Rice, Walker and quarterback Ryan Leaf than it does with their dissatisfaction over the way the 2000 season ended.

After blowing a chance to win the NFC Central and clinch a home playoff game and first-round bye on Martin Gramatica's missed 40-yard field goal at Green Bay in the regular-season finale, the Bucs sulked at their misfortune and laid an egg in Philadelphia.

They were listless and played like they were uninterested in extending the season, losing 21-3 to the Eagles.

"I think after last year's loss at Philadelphia, I think we all realized just how much we underachieved as a team," punter Mark Royals said. "We certainly felt like we were knocking on the door to get to the championship. I think what has happened with the draft and all the free-agent acquisitions, the competition level on this team is at an all-time high. That, in turn, should make us a much better team. I hope going through what we did last year with the expectation level the way it was with the (Super Bowl) game being here in town and not getting to that level, we've learned what we need to do. What that is, I think everybody knows. Work a little harder."

Linebacker Derrick Brooks points to the participation in the off-season program as evidence that his team might see its window of opportunity closing.

"I think it's more of a sense of urgency," Brooks said. "For me, this off-season is the toughest and hardest because of what we've not accomplished in the last couple of years when we've been able to keep this team together. To me, it's the sense of urgency along with the renewed commitment.

"Two years ago, the mention of winning the Super Bowl might have been unnerving. But that's what we expect to do. We won't want to be afraid of it. But us putting our actions in line with saying it is the big key. That's something we haven't done in the past. We've talked the talk, but we haven't walked the walk. You see a lot of guys putting in the work and not talking about it."

Royals said the Bucs should have learned how to handle expectations after reaching the playoffs three times in the last four years. And last season, there was the added pressure of Super Bowl XXXV being played in Raymond James Stadium.

"We have the same expectation level. Going into the season, a lot people have us picked as a Super Bowl favorite," Royals said. "We can't buy into it. It's cliche, but we've got to do it week by week. We can't take weeks off or take it for granted. I just think this team is as armed as I've ever seen it."

Great. Fine. The Bucs are loaded or reloaded again. Sapp wants to know what they are going to do about it.

"It's been a long time (since) leaving Philly after an a--whipping in 30-degree weather," Sapp said. "That was sick.

"Now we are the hunted. Like it or not, we're the hunted. We've got to accept that challenge and go out and perform. That's all it boils down to -- just perform."

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