Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs induct Sapp into Ring of Honor, retire No. 99

TAMPA

There will never be another No. 99.

That's official.

Of course, we already knew there would never be another Warren Sapp.

He's loud, charismatic, intimidating, charming, scary and one of the greatest football players of all time. We already knew he is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer. We also already knew he is being inducted into the Bucs' Ring of Honor next season.

But the real news of the day Thursday momentarily silenced the man who is rarely at a loss for words: Sapp's No. 99 will be the second number retired by the Bucs, after the legendary Lee Roy Selmon's No. 63.

"Oh my,'' was all a teary-eyed Sapp could utter.

Sapp is a numbers freak. Since he was a little kid, whenever he would see the time of 11:11 on a clock, he would rub it and make a wish. Here's a wish coming true: His number will be retired during a Monday night game against the Dolphins. The date: Nov. 11. That's 11/11.

That wish started years ago back in his hometown, Plymouth. He would get up at 4:30 a.m. and race through the orange groves to catch the school bus.

"When you go picking up oranges, you want out,'' Sapp, 40, said. "I promise you want out. I wanted out.''

Football paved his path, and it took him to the University of Miami, where he became one of the most fearsome defensive linemen the game had seen. Then it was off to the NFL.

The night before the 1995 draft, then-Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy was thrilled by the thought of getting Sapp with the No. 11 pick. To this day, then-ESPN reporter Andrea Kremer is a little sore at Dungy because he told her (and she reported) that the Vikings were taking Sapp. The next day, the Vikings took Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Alexander. One pick later, the Bucs took Sapp.

"I was heartbroken,'' Dungy said. "I thought, well, at least now we can focus on getting (Derrick) Brooks at the top of the second round.''

Before the Vikings could pick again, the Bucs took Brooks, too.

"Not only did we not get them,'' Dungy said, "but they're going to play against me for years.''

A year later, Dungy became the Bucs' head coach. First, Sapp had a season under Sam Wyche.

"A three-ring circus,'' Sapp said. "It was a real bad time. I had lost five games in four years at Miami. Now I'm coming to a place that just had 11 consecutive double-loss seasons. Trust me, it wasn't a good taste in my mouth.''

When Dungy took over for Wyche, he called in Sapp and Brooks. He told them to chase after a couple of Steelers legends. Sapp was to be the next Joe Greene. Brooks was to become the next Jack Ham.

"Me and Brooks walked out of the room,'' Sapp said, "and we were like, 'Is he crazy? We got our work cut out for us. So let's get to work.' ''

Between the brash talking, apart from the trash talking, outside the frequent confrontations with fans and the media, Sapp did manage to put in the work. He could be surly. He could be a jerk. But there was never a question about his work ethic and commitment to winning. He and Brooks were two Florida kids with chips on their shoulders, according to Sapp, and they used those chips to build a winning foundation.

Sapp would be named to seven Pro Bowls with the Bucs and was the 1999 NFL defensive player of the year.

His best game? Classic Sapp: "I got 13 years, man. Pick one and enjoy yourself.''

Brooks and Sapp were the key pieces of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. And together with teammates such as John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Mike Alstott, Brad Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson, the Bucs did what never seemed possible. They won a Super Bowl.

"It was a beautiful thing,'' Sapp said. "Tampa was a place where they said careers came to die. That's a lie. Tampa is a destination. Tampa is a place where champions live. We all did it together, no doubt about it, from the ugly orange to the beautiful pewter. I wouldn't trade a day in any other uniform in any other place in the world.''

Doing it in Tampa Bay was sweeter than anywhere else for Sapp. He remembers the early days, watching TV in a hotel room before a game on a Sunday morning and hearing ESPN's Chris Berman calling his team the "Yucks.'' NFL Films regularly featured the Bucs on Football Follies. He swore no one would ever make fun of his team again, not as long as he was suiting up.

"It means a lot more that we built this team from the ground up,'' Sapp said.

Raymond James is, in part, the stadium Sapp built. And now his name will be on that stadium's ring of honor.

"When I look up there,'' Sapp's mother, Annie Roberts, said, "I can say, 'That's my son. That's my boy.' ''

Sapp smiled knowing that everyone who goes to Raymond James to watch a Bucs game or a USF game or the Outback Bowl or a concert or a monster truck show will look up and see his name and his retired number.

"I heard somebody say that (former Cowboys great) Tony Dorsett was a guy you could take your grandmother to watch play and she'd enjoy it,'' Sapp said. "I would like to think I was like that, too. When there was a Sunday afternoon and the sun was shining, oh yeah, it was going to be a sweet day. I love this game. I really, really loved it. There was nothing better. It was my sanctuary.

"Sunday afternoon? I was going to show you what I worked on all week.''

Now the stadium will show what he worked on his entire brilliant career. Take a good look every time you see his name on the ring. Take a good look at that number.

You'll never see another 99 again.

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