By GARY SHELTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 2000
TAMPA -- Warren Sapp was talking. Of course he was talking. Sapp does a great many things, and many of them he does with uncommon flourish.
But he does nothing better than the way he talks.
He still was on the ground when the noise started, the words spilling out of his lips as if he were an auctioneer. He had a quarterback in his grasp, and a record, and darned if the moment didn't deserve a word or 200. So Sapp held onto the Bills' Rob Johnson, and he talked and chided and rapped and taunted and described and chattered and jabbered and squawked -- in general, held forth. If it takes a thousand words per picture, then Sapp talked up a museum or two.
Then Sapp got up, still talking, and shuffled toward his sideline when it occurred to him that he was, um, tired. So he grabbed his knees for a moment to catch his breath. Then he straightened up again. And he started to talk once more.
This is the world of Warren Sapp: pure energy, high volume. And if you wish to visit, fasten your seat belts and grab your earplugs.
He is in the middle of everything, good and bad; in the middle of the field and out of bounds, swiping the Bills' water and turning it into whine. He made sacks. He drew penalties. He made offensive coordinators uncomfortable, including his own.
This is Sapp. He is a nuclear weapon, and he is a loose cannon. He is a sackmaster and a flagbearer. He is a big man and a big mouth. He is the head cheerleader, the quotemaster, the bugle-sounder and, in his spare time, the new consultant to the offensive coordinator.
He is Warren Sapp, talker.
He is Warren Sapp, walker.
Maybe you noticed. Last week, Sapp looked at the tranquil pool that is Tony Dungy's existence and he did a cannonball right in the middle. He ripped his team's offense in the Times, including its new offensive coordinator. He talked loud and long about the offense's lack of production and identity, and he dared you to disagree. He shook things up. He made people pay attention.
"I think it needed to be said," Sapp said, talking about his talk. "I didn't say anything to tear this team apart. I wouldn't do that. I could have done it in a smoother, kinder, gentler way. But this team has enough fiber that I wasn't going to tear it apart."
It can be a messy thing when players start talking about their coaches. Most of the time, it is the first sign of a team that is undisciplined, divisive. It can invite factions and fingerpointing.
But whether you agree or disagree with Sapp, know this: What he said stems from the same passion that drives him toward the quarterback. It was frustration fueled by fire in the face of a season that was one defeat from history. To Sapp, this wasn't about criticism. To Sapp, this was about leadership.
"Someone had to say it, and it had to be me," Sapp said. "An offensive guy couldn't say this. If Keyshawn had said it, it would have looked like crying. If Shaun had said it, people would have talked about how young he was. For other players, it would have been out of character.
"I've always been the guy who set the tone and had his finger on the pulse of this team. I just took the bottle cap off a bottle of Sprite that's been shaken up for a long time. A little bit spilled out, but we still have enough to nourish ourselves toward a championship."
And so it was that Sapp, critic at large, walked onto the field with every eye on him. That's the way of the world. Make a sufficient amount of noise and the attention turns to you. Which, to Sapp, has always been fine.
He set a sack record. That came late in the first half when he knocked down Johnson for sack number 13 1/2. That passed Lee Roy Selmon -- who almost never talked to a quarterback until his ears bled -- for the Bucs' season record.
He drew penalties. He hit Rob Johnson late -- he disagrees -- to draw a 15-yard penalty. He walked over to the Bills' bench for a drink of water and was flagged for taunting -- he disagrees. He jawed with players and coaches and officials. If you had frequent flier miles on his tongue, you could have earned a two-week vacation to Neptune.
He made people nervous. Some of those were in his own administration, and some of them played offense for the Bills.
And maybe, along the way, he turned himself into a lightning rod. He pulled all the criticism and the controversy toward himself, and the rest of the locker room seemed to relax.
"Whenever there is a riff, it's coming to me," Sapp said. "I know that. It's just one of those situations. I can take this (the attention). Put the microscope on me. That's fine. You're going to find some good things, because I'm going to perform."
That, of course, is the other part of the Sapp package, the one that makes Dungy smile grimly through his discomfort. Dungy's way is to speak softly and carry a big stick. Sapp only heard the second part. Dungy, naturally, would have preferred Sapp to air his frustrations in a meeting in his office.
"I did it the way I did it," Sapp said. "Sometimes, when you say things internally, it gets lost in all the riffraff and the game preparations. But when you let the world focus in on it, then you have to perform."
If you are the Bucs, the annoying thing about what Sapp said was that he's right. He's reflecting what others are saying in the locker room.
"I'm the voice of 10 players," Sapp said. "I'm just the megaphone."
Keep this in mind: For all that Sapp has said over five seasons, all the words and sentences and paragraphs, he has never been one to turn on his teammates. He admits he bit his tongue despite all the Dilfer throws and Shula calls, despite all the days when the defense could have sued for non-support.
This time, he talked. Turned out, the guy had something to say.
"I think it helped," he said. "The madness had its method."
Warren Sapp broke Lee Roy Selmon's Bucs season record for sacks, though the way Marcus Jones is playing, Selmon soon could fall to third:
(Sacks, Player, Year)
13.5 Warren Sapp '00
13 Lee Roy Selmon '77
12.5 Warren Sapp '99
12 Marcus Jones '00
11 Lee Roy Selmon '83
11 Lee Roy Selmon '79
11 Lee Roy Selmon '78
11 Broderick Thomas '91
10.5 Warren Sapp '97