Warren Sapp clearly enjoys himself on the field, though NFL quarterbacks might feel differently about his presence
By Kevin Kaminski, NFL Insider for NFL.com
(Dec. 11, 2000) - His motor is always running - that describes both his mouth and the relentless effort that defines his play.
Unfortunately, there's little opponents can do to stop either when it comes to Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
"Warren is definitely his own man," Buccaneers defensive line coach Rod Marinelli says. "He may say a lot of things. But the bigger the game, the more important the situation, the better he plays … that one play you need at the key moment, he's always there."
To the surprise of no one, Sapp has been a focal point during the Buccaneers' resurgence over the second half of the season. The reigning NFL defensive player of the year has already set a team record with 13.5 sacks heading into Monday night's showdown with the St. Louis Rams.
With the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder spearheading a defensive charge, Tampa Bay has limited seven consecutive opponents to 17 points or less - and six of those games resulted in Buccaneers victories.
But his brutal candor also has been at the forefront of Tampa Bay's playoff push.
With the stench of a disturbing 13-10 loss at Chicago eating away at him, Sapp, in his words, "took the cap off a bottle of [soda] that's been shook up for a long time."
Two days before a Nov. 26 game with Buffalo, he verbally blistered a Tampa Bay offense that he felt wasn't holding up its end of the bargain.
"The saddest part about it is we play at the highest professional level of football and a high school team has more base (offensive) plays than we do," Sapp said. "I can't even tell you our favorite formation."
That sentiment, splattered as it was across local headlines, could have divided a Tampa Bay team that already was questioning its identity. Instead, the Bucs roasted the Bills 31-17, sparking the three-game winning streak they carry into Monday's NFC title game rematch.
"You gonna talk it," Sapp said after the Buffalo game, "let's walk it."
As usual, Sapp backed up his words with an impact performance. He dropped quarterback Rob Johnson on the Bills' first drive, then knocked Buffalo out of field-goal range with another sack before the half.
Always looking to stir the embers, Sapp later drew the ire of Buffalo players when he wandered into the Bills' bench area for a cup of water while doctors were on the field tending to an injured Johnson. That display cost Sapp a flag for taunting and, ultimately, a fine from the league.
But unlike those players who talk a better game than they play, Sapp's incessant on-field chatter and larger-than-life personality remain part of a much greater whole.
"I do what I do and whenever I get finished, however they look at me, they look at me," Sapp says. "I've always said I want to be considered one of the best that's ever played this game. So far, so good, I think."
Already compared by head coach Tony Dungy to Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Joe Greene, Sapp has raised the bar considerably over the past two seasons. Despite drawing constant double teams, he has totaled 26 sacks in 29 regular-season games.
According to Marinelli, Sapp's painstaking attention to detail - footwork, hand position, working on his rush moves - has led to a consistency that only the game's elite players achieve.
"They're not all great games," Marinelli says. "But he's now at the point where he plays no bad games.
"It's too bad people can't see the tape of games like we do. Warren is not only running all over the field making plays, he's relentless even when (he's being blocked) … when a lot of guys get doubled on a pass rush, they kind of stop. Warren never quits on a rush. He's always working the second and third move - knowing all along he may not get to the quarterback.
"The man just keeps coming. It's awesome to watch."