Sapp, Warren 1972–
Warren Sapp 1972–
Warren Sapp, defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is a fierce sacker of opposing quarterbacks and has helped his team make it to the playoffs four times between 1995 and 2002. At 303 pounds, the five-time Pro Bowl honoree—and one of the highest-paid athletes in professional football—is an immense and often feared presence on the gridiron; on the sidelines, he has gained a reputation for another of his talents: his dramatic verbal fireworks both in and out of the locker room. “Sapp,” noted Esquire writer Charles P. Pierce, “will do the dance, the chest bump, and the howl—now de rigueur—on every sack, but it is the way he throws himself into the play that makes him unique.”
Sapp was born on December 19, 1972, in Plymouth, Florida, a town outside of Orlando, where friends and family still call him by his middle name, “Carlos.” The youngest of six children, he was raised in a singleparent household, and never knew his father. His mother, Annie Roberts, often worked three or four jobs to support the family, but Sapp has said that such early hardships were not a hindrance. “I had a very loving and caring mother,” Sapp told Sports Illustrated journalist S. L. Price. “I had people around. I had a big family. I took what I had, and I worked with it. Sometimes life deals you a dirty hand. So you just have to rearrange it.”
Roberts was a firm disciplinarian with her son, and once managed to get him suspended from the Apopka High School football team, where he was a star player, until his grades improved. Sapp entered the University of Miami as a redshirt freshman, or off-the-roster team member, in 1991. He went on to play three impressive seasons with the Hurricanes, and won a number of honors for best defensive player at the college level, including the 1994 Vince Lombardi award for best Collegiate lineman/linebacker in the United States. Though known for his immense size—he weighed in at 285 pounds at Miami and stood six-foot, one inch in height—Sapp soon gained a reputation for fleet-footedness when going after opposing-team quarter-Dacks. “He leaps over blockers, reads linemen at a glance and runs an absurd 4.69 40-yard dash,” wrote rice in Sports Illustrated. “He is strong, smart, bubbly.”
At a Glance…
Born Warren Carlos Sapp on December 19, 1972, in Plymouth, FL; son of Annie Roberts (a teacher’s assistant); married JaMiko Vaughn, 1998; children: Mercedes, Warren Jr. Education: Attended University of Miami, 1991–94.
Career: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa, FL, defensive tackle, 1995–.
Awards: Vince Lombardi Award, 1994, for best collegiate lineman/linebacker; named to Pro Bowl, 1997–2001.
Address: Office —c/o Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 Buccaneer Place, Tampa, FL 33607.
Sapp decided to forego his senior year of college at Miami and enter the National Football League (NFL) draft in 1995. He was eager to begin a professional career and help his family, he told Price. “I saw a way for my mother to retire,” Sapp said in a Sports Illustrated interview. “She’s been working a long time. I’m her last kid, her last shot, and I have an opportunity for her to kick up her feet and say, ‘I don’t have to go to work today if I don’t want to.’” In February of 1995 he participated in the NFL scouting combine, and his stellar performance caused sportswriters to deem him one of the top-five draft picks that season. But a few weeks later, rumors surfaced that Sapp had tested positive for both cocaine and marijuana. The report had been leaked to the media from someone inside the NFL organization.
The League quickly issued a statement saying that the report was erroneous, and that Sapp had not tested positive for cocaine, but their backpedaling did not address the marijuana question. Sapp and his agent denied that he had ever tested positive for cocaine, and Sapp told Price that he was willing to submit to weekly drug tests by any team that drafted him. The damage was done, however, and he dropped out of the top five, losing what was potentially a $4 million rookie contract. He remained undeterred by the fracas. “If they drop me to 10th, that’s still more money than I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sapp told Price. “It’s still an opportunity to fulfill my dream of playing in the NFL. So if one team feels this incident makes me less of a player or the wrong kind of person for their franchise—to each his own.”
Sapp’s tale devolved into a “ghoulish draft-day sideshow,” noted Alexander Wolff, another Sports Illustrated writer, as television cameras registered Sapp’s every reaction after eleven teams bypassed him that day. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a chance, however. At the time, the franchise had suffered 12 consecutive losing seasons of 10 or more games. Its new owner, Malcolm Glazer, and coach Sam Wyche were optimistic that Sapp was still a good bet. Wyche told Greg Cote at Sporting News that the newest Buc “is a tremendous football player who may become one of the glowing examples of how you can overcome a college mistake in a society that is filled with these kinds of temptations.”
Sapp donned jersey No. 99, in honor of Tampa native and former University of Miami star defensive tackle Jerome Brown, who died tragically in a car crash in 1992. During his rookie season, Sapp did not start in many games, but he racked up 27 season tackles and several sportswriting organizations named him football’s rookie defensive tackle of the year. The following year he began to emerge as one of the Bucs’ star players, starting in 14 of 15 contests and taking down a number of opponents despite a chronic ankle injury. In June of 1997 Sapp’s name once again appeared in headlines when he was arrested for marijuana possession after police searched his car. The drugs had been in a backpack belonging to friend, and a judge later ruled that police had lacked enough evidence to conduct the search without a warrant.
Sapp went on to an impressive 1997 season, with 68 tackles—45 of them solo—and 10.5 sacks, and the team made it into the playoffs. He made it into the Pro Bowl again that year, and at the end of the season renegotiated his salary and signed a new $36 million contract, making him one of the two highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL. In 1998 Sapp did not perform as well as expected, though the team did emerge as one of the League’s strongest defensive squads. Yet Sapp still had much to be happy about that year as he wed girlfriend JaMiko Vaughn. In 1999 both Sapp and the Bucs rebounded. Sapp had a career high of 12.5 sacks—missing the League all-time record by a half-sack—and the Bucs took the NFC Central title. He was named to the Pro Bowl for a third time, and was becoming a favorite of sportswriters for his ability to deliver a quip. In 2000 and again in 2001, the Bucs again advanced to the top of the rankings and entered the playoff season.
Near the close of the 2002 season, Sapp came under fire in the media after a game against the Green Bay Packers. Sapp had blocked Packers’ tackle Chad Clifton with a hit to the shoulder, and Packers’ coach Mike Sherman confronted Sapp and claimed that he had used his helmet as a weapon. Tampa Bay’s newest coach, Jon Gruden, defended his star tackle. “Warren Sapp did nothing illegal or malicious,” a New York Times report quoted Gruden as saying. “He made an aggressive play. When a ball is intercepted, we’re trying to score. No matter how that play is interpreted by a coach on another team or a fan of another team, Warren Sapp made no error whatsoever.” Sapp had his own characteristic spin on the incident, and a report by Thomas George of the New York Times noted that Sapp and Sherman were disputing each other’s statements to the press. Sapp remarked that if Sherman refused to “tell the truth about it, I’ll just leave it at that. We get an interception, we’re returning the ball and I turn and look for somebody to block. I get double-teamed and worse all of the time. I get one good, clean hit and now I’m the dirtiest player in the league? Tell him to carry his tail home with that loss.”
Sapp did not allow this incident to disrupt his play as he racked up 7.5 sacks and two interceptions on the way to a NFC Division title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sapp and the Bucs entered the playoffs as a favored team and they did anything but disappoint. The Bucs rolled over their opponents on their way to their first Superbowl appearance where Sapp and his teammates beat the Oakland Raiders to end the season as Superbowl champions. For Sapp, it was the pinnacle moment of his career and he credits everyone with the victory, including his teammates, his coaches, and even his fans whom he told, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” during a post game celebration.
Though known for his fiery temperament both on and off the field, his colleagues respect Sapp. His Tampa Bay teammate Jerry Wunsch told Sports Illustrated’s Michael Silver that Sapp is “a good leader, a guy who points us in the right direction and is always focused on winning. You always know where you stand with him.” Sapp himself is more sanguine about his abilities and reputation as one of the League’s most formidable players. “Head, heart and feet,” he told a writer for the Tampa Tribune, “that’s what it takes to be a great player.”
ADWEEK Eastern Edition, January 15, 2001, p. 24.
Esquire, September 2000, p. 200.
New York Times, November 25, 2002, p. D3; November 26, 2002, p. D7; December 29, 2002.
Sport, December 1999, p. 60; August 2000, p. 48.
Sporting News, May 22, 1995, p. 32; October 12, 1998, p. 10; January 28, 2002, p. 22
Sports Illustrated, March 27, 1995, p. 48; May 1, 1995, p. 49; October 30, 1995, p. 80; September 15, 1997, p. 91; March 9, 1998, p. 68; August 23, 1999, p. 48; November 5, 2001, p. 50.
Sports Illustrated for Kids, September 1, 2000, p. 65; November 1, 2001, p. 56.
Tampa Tribune, July 31, 1998, p. 12; April 28, 2002, p. 1.
Superbowl News, www.superbowl.com/news/story/6155894
—Carol Brennan and Ralph Zerbonia
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