Random: Warren Sapp praised by … Hunter S. Thompson?

Ryan Leaf with the Bucs! Today's random Warren Sapp cameo gives us an excuse to show Leaf's brief stint with Tampa Bay in 2001. [TIMES FILES | 2001]
Ryan Leaf with the Bucs! Today's random Warren Sapp cameo gives us an excuse to show Leaf's brief stint with Tampa Bay in 2001. [TIMES FILES | 2001]
Published July 6 2018

I'll try to play this straight, for maximum effect: Former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp drew praise from famed author and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in a 1998 letter written to the Colts lobbying for them to draft Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning.

It's a wonderfully strange cameo, with a time-capsule effect of taking you back 20 years to when Manning vs. Leaf was a real debate. Leaf posted on Instagram a typewritten letter given to him, sent by Thompson (until now not necessarily known as a draft analyst) to Colts owner Jim Irsay.

"Dear James," it begins, and it only gets better. There were smart people who preferred Leaf to Manning, and Thompson is decidedly one.

“The Leaf boy is another matter,” he writes. “He looks strong & Manning doesn’t — or at least not strong enough to handle that ‘Welcome to the NFL’ business for two years without a world-class offensive line.”

Thompson questions that line, and in comes the Sapp cameo: "Think about it. You don't want a china doll back there when that freak Sapp comes crashing in."

Sapp had just earned the first of seven straight Pro Bowls, with his first 10-sack season in 1997.

Leaf, of course, would briefly be Sapp's Bucs teammate in the summer of 2001, and he never played against the Bucs, so we'll never know how he might have handled Sapp coming at him.

Sapp did face Manning — most Bucs fans don't need to be reminded about a Monday night in October 2003 when Tampa Bay led 35-14 with four minutes to go and still lost 38-35 to those Colts. Manning was sacked once that day, but it was by Ellis Wyms.

Sapp faced Manning again with Oakland in 2004 and tackled him, but not for a sack. Sapp's third-to-last NFL game, in 2007, was against Manning, but he didn't sack him then, either.

Sapp did sack Manning eventually. Big thanks to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which captured a Sapp sack of Manning in the 2001 Pro Bowl. Remember when those were in Hawaii?

Leaf called the letter "unbelievable, hysterical and ludicrous" in his Instagram post, which sounds about right, 20 years later.

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