San Francisco Examiner

Sapp wears cranky pants
January 10, 2003
Of The Examiner Staff

SANTA CLARA -- Warren Sapp can be one ornery man, even when he is on the telephone speaking from some 3,000 miles away.

Sapp, the emotional force behind Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense, was in fine, crabby form Wednesday when addressing Bay Area reporters. And that one characteristic -- that street-born feistiness -- is what makes him one of the great players in the NFL.

Sounds like somebody who wears the scarlet and gold, huh?

"Warren Sapp plays like T.O.," Niners receivers coach George Stewart said. "Sometimes you have to read the book to see beyond the cover."

Is it any wonder why Sapp is a big fan of Niners receiver Terrell Owens?

"He's my favorite," said Sapp, whose Buccaneers host the 49ers in an NFC divisional playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. "He's the man. C'mon, baby, he's big, he's show(ie), he's fast, catches the ball, talks more trash than a little bitty and you still can't stop him.

"It goes all the way back to the Dallas thing. Somebody asked me about it. If you don't want the man to celebrate, keep him out of the end zone. The man scores a touchdown, grabs the pompoms, signs the Sharpie, stands on the ball, does whatever you need to do.

"This man is coming with everything he's got to come with to get you, so you'd better be ready to play."

Sapp was in fine form during his chat, refusing to address several questions he felt were leading. For example, someone asked Sapp about the 1997 season-opening game in Tampa Bay, during which then-Niners receiver Jerry Rice tore ligaments in a knee after Sapp grabbed him by the facemask and yanked him to the ground.

"Does that change your job for tomorrow?" Sapp retorted.

Rice, who is now with the Raiders, accused Sapp of delivering a cheap shot, the same accusation that followed Sapp after he blinded-sided Green Bay offensive tackle Chad Clifton while a teammate was returning an interception in November.

The NFL reviewed the play and deemed Sapp's hit legal. Tell that to Clifton, who has a career-threatening hip injury.

So, someone asked Sapp if he and Rice had a chance to clear the air. "It's none of your business or any of your concern what me and Jerry Rice did," Sapp spewed.

With that, the conversation ended.

But it's just the kind of attitude that has driven Sapp for eight years. Sapp tied a club record this season after being chosen for the Pro Bowl for the sixth time in his career. The stubby Sapp is first among NFC defensive tackles with 7 sacks and 78 tackles.

And don't be fooled by his fire hydrant, 6-foot-2, 302-pound frame, because Sapp is nothing if not fit.

"I think the thing that is overlooked with Warren is that he has an unbelievable work ethic," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "He has a great ability throughout the year to work hard at his game. When you look at the great players in this league, whether you are talking about Terrell Owens or Jerry Rice, they all have that quality that (Tampa Bay linebacker) Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp have.

"They are finishers."

And the league's preeminent trash-talker, too, a player who will be lined up against one of the best in the game -- at talking trash, that is: 49ers center Jeremy Newberry. Newberry has been clamoring for the past two weeks that 49ers could kick anybody's "ass" in the playoffs.

Given a chance to engage in some pregame warfare when informed of Newberry's comments, Sapp declined. However, he understands Newberry is simply confident in his team.

"Oh, you must have confidence in yourself," Sapp said. "This game is all about confidence. You don't believe in yourself, then who will? I have to take my hat off to 'Mayberry,' the young fellow 'Mayberry,' or whatever his name might be.

"He has confidence in himself because he goes to work every day and works hard."

As does Sapp.

"Warren Sapp. He's a great player," 49ers right tackle Scott Gragg said. "He changes how games are played and how you prepare for a defensive tackle."

Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.