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Legendary

So just how good is Warren Sapp? Six greats of the game weigh in on th Bucs' leader, his passion for the game, his mouth, his position. The consensus: He is becoming...

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000


Joe Greene: "The first time I saw Warren Sapp, you could tell right away that he had something special. He was a ball of fire. An absolute ball of fire. He was running around, changing direction, showing that great quickness. Even then, you could tell."

Lee Roy Selmon: "He loves playing the game. You can tell it by watching him."

Reggie White: "I love the guy. He has this great intensity. I would have loved to have played beside him."

Artie Donovan: "Warren Sapp? Isn't he the guy with the hair braids?"

Say this much for the legends. For the most part, they know who they are, and they know who belongs. They watch a game, and they see their own special qualities like a secret handshake shared only by a special few. More and more, they know the name of Warren Sapp, too. Every game, he writes lyrics, and they sing praises.

Six men, among the finest defensive linemen the game has known. Five of them are Hall of Famers already, the other is on his way. Joe Greene from Pittsburgh. Randy White from Dallas. Reggie White from Carolina (via Green Bay and Philadelphia). Artie Donovan from Baltimore. Merlin Olsen from the L.A. Rams. Lee Roy Selmon from the Bucs. A jury of his peers.

Together, they have a total of 55 Pro Bowls.

The reality is that each was interviewed last week by telephone.

In a perfect world, however, you imagine them sitting at a round table, laughing and telling their stories into the night, talking about football, talking about Sapp, talking about the crazy world of the defensive tackle.

Come on, then. Pull up a chair. Listen for a while.

Olsen: "The game was so different when I played. One thing that's hard to adjust to is all the posturing and the sack dances. In my day, when you made a good play, you got rewarded from the crowd. You didn't have to become a cheerleader. But I accept the fact that Sapp wants to play the game."

Randy White: "You know, I never cared much for talking. But it doesn't bother me when that guy jumps around. He's earned it. He backs it up. It was never my style. I always felt I didn't have to tell someone I made a good play by attracting attention and jumping around. But over time, I've learned that everyone has their own way of motivating themselves. With Sapp, maybe that's how he fires up his teammates."

Selmon: "It's just his personality. It's the same as when you hear him on the radio, except he isn't as mean."

Donovan: "I was never mouthy like that guy. He must be good, but evidently, he lets everyone know about it."

Greene: "I'm an old-school guy. Most of the time, I'm usually turned off by the hair. But with Sapp, it doesn't bother me. Maybe it's because he's legitimate. In my day, we had a phrase: Faking the funk. That's kind of like being unreal. But that's not Sapp. As far as the talking, he's more animated than I was, but I did the talking. To running backs, quarterbacks, almost never to the offensive line."

Reggie White: "Warren can talk. But he can back up his talk. If not, he'd never be an effective leader. If he couldn't play, the other guys wouldn't be interested. You know, I played with Jerome Brown, and he reminds me so much of Jerome. The way he's built, the way he comes off the ball."

Randy White: "He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He's got a lot of ability, and he hustles. He's always moving, and he never gives up, and he's always going-going-going. He looks like he's not playing for a check; he's playing to have fun."

Olsen: "He's a complete football player. Some people get so enamored with the pass rush. I won't put a defensive lineman into the "great' category unless they play the run as well as the pass. If you have a guy who's just headed up the field all the time, he puts a tremendous strain on his teammates."

Greene: "I was listening to the Bucs-Minnesota game on the radio a couple of weeks ago, and Sapp turned that game. He set the tempo by knocking the ball out of (Daunte Culpepper's) hands. Then, a little while later, he knocked the ball loose and picked it up and ran it downfield. It was called back, but the deed was done."

Reggie White: "I've played both, and I always tell people: It takes an athlete to play defensive end, but it takes a man to play defensive tackle. I tell people that I'm lucky enough to be an athlete and a man. Warren's a man, but he's an athlete, too."

Olsen: "Playing defensive tackle is like being in a dryer. You're getting beaten on from every direction. Think about it. By being right there in the center of the action, there are so many people who are taking a shot at you. It's not rare to be hit three or four times."

Randy White: "You get hit every play. You've got to like the challenge, and you've got to like the pain. You've got to get down in the dirt and fight and scratch and get mad and push and shove. It's like a street fight, every play, whacking and hammering and banging and going."

Greene: "I refer to it as developing your tools for war. Balance, toughness, instincts, vision, agility, and a go-for-the-jugular attitude. You don't look at that they're trying to take your head off. You look at what you're trying to do. There's an inherent danger, but it's the charge and the thrill of the hunt."

Olsen: "My kids used to have a game. They would bring their friends over on Monday morning to watch their dad try to get out of bed."

Selmon: "I wouldn't want to play inside."

Olsen: "There has been a strong evolution at defensive tackle. You go back in time, they used to refer to them as stationary tackles. They just wanted them to close down the middle of the line. But defensive tackles are the closest to the quarterback of any defensive player. You can strike a note of fear in the quarterback's heart every time he sees you approaching the line. What you want is to make his life miserable."

Reggie White: "It's become harder to play defensive tackle in the last 7-8 years. The rules are being changed to help the offense every year. Look at offensive linemen now. They're not coming with their hands inside any more. They're like birds (attacking). There has to be something wrong when I've played over 12,000 plays, and I've been held on about 9,000, and I've gotten about 70 holding calls."

Donovan: "You watch offensive linemen, and they're like octopuses. They shove and push and grab. It's got to be harder. When I played, we only played a 4-3. Once, Bill Pellington called a cross-hands, which meant we were supposed to shift, and we all moved the wrong way."

Olsen: "It would drive me crazy (when) the first move by an offensive lineman was to grab me. I hated that. I never objected to him grabbing me when he was beaten because I would have done the same thing. The guy I hated was the guy who wouldn't even try to block. If you changed it back, the quarterbacks would last about five minutes, because most offensive linemen don't know how to block without holding."

Greene: "You could go to a football game and, after it ends, you could pick out the defensive tackles. Just by the way they walk, the way they carry themselves. They had blood on their jerseys, and they'd be dirty, even if they played on turf."

Olsen: "When Sapp's career is over, I could see him going to television. A cop show, maybe. Or a sitcom. He has that kind of personality."

Reggie White: "He's a character. We were at the Pro Bowl, and Sapp was talking about bottled water. And Sapp says the best fresh water comes from Florida. And I said, "Warren, you've got to get the fresh water from the mountains.' And he said "No, trust me. They get it from Florida. I used to swim in a lot of the springs where they get it.' And I said "Sapp, you tell me which fresh water you used to swim in, and I'll never drink it again.' "

Selmon: "Could he be headed to the Hall of Fame? I think so. He's having that kind of career. But I never really thought about that. I'm sure he's the same way."

Greene: "He's on track. He's in the game. Time takes care of that. It doesn't bother me when Warren is compared to me. I know what Tony (Dungy) is saying. The bottom line: What I thought I brought to the table was competitive spirit. Win, win, win. That's why I was there. It wasn't to make people happy. I wasn't there to influence friends. If you wanted to go with me, fine. If not, then leave. Warren has that same fire. I'm sure he has a way of saying things that pretenders can't say. He has the big stick. He's the big guy who plays like a big dog. In football, when the big dog's out, everyone else gets out of the way."

Randy White: "Sapp could have played with us. He could have played in any era."

Selmon: "It would have been great to play with him. He draws an awful lot of attention, which creates the situation where a lot of people come free. That makes it easier on everyone."

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