Warren Sapp started a trend Saturday night.
This wasn't entirely surprising. Sapp, the seven-time Pro Bowler who helped lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII at the end of the 2002 season, is obviously a forceful personality. As a player, he was a groundbreaker at his defensive tackle position, a natural leader and the type of brash character that teammates couldn't help notice at all times.
On Saturday night, however, Sapp wasn't hunting quarterbacks or rallying the troops for a goal-line stand. He was seeking autographs.
More specifically, Sapp had come across a copy of "World Champions: The Official Story of the 2002 Buccaneers" in the lobby at One Buc Place, and he was determined to fill it with as many of his '02 teammates' signatures as possible. Fortunately, he was in the best possible environment to complete that task.
On Saturday evening, the Buccaneers began the 10-year reunion celebration of their first Super Bowl Championship team with a private gathering at team headquarters. More than 50 players and coaches from that title-winning squad returned to celebrate the greatest season yet in franchise history. On Sunday, the same group will gather again at Raymond James Stadium for a halftime ceremony during the current team's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The emotion of the night got to almost everyone.
"It feels like I'm a rookie again," said Dexter Jackson, the Super Bowl MVP. "All the emotions and everything are just rushing through my body right now, being here and seeing everybody. It's awesome to be back, reminiscing about the good times, the hard work and the commitment. I cherish it. It's great to be a part of history."
Clearly, everyone in attendance felt the same way. Soon, the Super Bowl book became a common accessory, with players trying to get their teammates signatures on their corresponding pictures. There were hugs, too, and never-ending reminiscing. Technically, there were four parts to the gala evening set up by the Glazer Family – lobby reception, highlight film viewing in the team auditorium, dinner and lobby dessert-slash-tour of the facility – but in reality it was one big mingling session.
"It's good to come back to the spot and see everybody," said Sapp, who took the microphone several times during dinner and arranged a series of team photographs in the corner. "It's been 10 years, and the memories never fade."
Mike Alstott, the indomitable fullback who never went down with one hit, said he had goose bumps upon arrival. Kerry Jenkins, the starting left guard who played part of the season with a cracked bone in his leg, said it felt like the Super Bowl happened yesterday. Joe Jurevicius, the inspirational receiver with the series of big plays in the playoffs, said the night would rekindle a lot of dormant relationships.
Jon Gruden, the Bucs' first-year head coach in 2002, couldn't help but think about the immensity of the effort that went in to winning the championship that led to Saturday's reunion.
"It is exciting," he said. "[People] forget Cornell Green and Kenyatta Walker and all the screaming and yelling that we put in behind the scenes. It's a great night tonight. I'm appreciative of the Glazers putting this together to honor the first championship that the Buccaneers have had. I know they'll get another one, but that was special, your first one."
Mark Dominik, the team's current General Manager, was the team's director of pro personnel in 2002. He had joined the team in 1995 and seen – and been a part of – the gradual building process that led to the Bucs' first Lombardi Trophy. Seeing all of the returning players from that championship team was a special moment for him.
"To sit back and watch the people walking through the door – you see Warren Sapp and Brad Johnson and Rich McKay and Tim Ruskell," said Dominik. "There were so many great people in the organization, and I think that's that what makes it happen, how you work together. This league moves fast, but at the same point it's great to look back at a special football team that had a chance to win several championships. Thank goodness we won one, because it's so hard. It's so tough in this league, and the fact that the coaches and the players were able to pull together, it's great."
Saturday night was about reconnecting, and celebrating a shared achievement. On Sunday afternoon, the 2002 team will once again get together, this time in front of a sold-out Raymond James Stadium.
"One last time, until 10 more years," said linebacker Derrick Brooks, the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "Obviously, that's exciting. The last time this team was together, it was a packed house. That's what they deserve, and I appreciate the fans for stepping up and making this a packed house because these guys deserve it."