Warren Sapp never really had a sack dance. He would just kind of stomp over the fallen quarterback as if putting out a cigarette butt. But Sapp will enjoy one last tango in Tampa on Saturday night when he hosts a retirement party at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The event will benefit the Tampa Children's Cancer Center.
After 96½ sacks, eight Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl championship, the former Bucs and Raiders defensive tackle is finally ready to take a bow. But performing still is in his blood and Sapp, 35, says he plans to accept an offer to appear on Dancing With the Stars.
But before he begins practicing the Sapp Samba, No. 99 took time in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times to reflect on his career, and he doesn't tiptoe around any questions.
Why retire now?
I like the way it reads. It would've been real nice to get 100 sacks and all that, but I'm okay with 96.5. It's triple digits, right? I can finally skew my sacks a little bit like everybody else did.
What stands out when you reflect on your career?
I didn't ride out on a blaze of glory on a playoff run. But I've been to 31 of the 32 NFL stadiums, with the exception of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. … I look back and say, "Wow, I was just blessed to play 13 years and have an opportunity to share this career with my mother and family." I can't put into words what it has meant to me."
How did you know it was time to retire?
There's no better way than me pulling the trigger on myself. It's no longer fun. It had nothing to do with where I was playing or the team I was playing for. It became a job. It was an absolute job. I was punching a clock. …
There's a lot of stuff going on in this league I don't believe in. You see it on television every day. I'm that old veteran guy. Guys come in and they're 21 or 22 years old. I'm more than a generation apart. … You see a kid come in the meeting room and he's sleeping and we need this guy on third down and I've got to play next to him? C'mon. No way. Uh-uh.
What impact did Tony Dungy have on your career?
The man put me on a pedestal and said for us to be any kind of defense, I've got to get to Brett Favre because they were the champions at that time. That's the path he put me on. He took the chains off of me, let me be freewheeling, up the field and trample the run on the way to the quarterback.
So Dungy gets credit for building the defense?
He built us into a championship defense. From 1996 to 2002, me, (Derrick) Brooks, (John) Lynch and the boys gave up 16.02 points per game. That's why I always said give me 17 points and I'll make it stick. We did that for 96 NFL games. I'm not a stat guy, but I'll take that to my grave.
What impact did Jon Gruden have when he arrived?
Jon made the offense accountable. There was no way he was going to walk and let the defense be the show after they paid $8-million and gave up four picks to the Raiders. He made them so accountable. He'd run bootlegs during nine-on-seven to make sure our ends were disciplined. Oh, let him hit a pass on us and he'd run down that field like a kid in a candy store.
So who deserves the most credit for winning the Super Bowl? Dungy or Gruden?
I always say this: The damn cake was already in the oven. It was just a matter of when it came out. All Jon had to do was put the icing on it.
Do you think your team should have won more Super Bowls?
No, because the next year we came back was the last year of my contract and they had to decide between me and (Booger) McFarland. I told Mac, "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. They've got to spend it on somebody."
So who was responsible for you having to leave the Bucs?
It was all of them, but Monte (Kiffin) led the charge. He said, "We can do it without him." Me and Monte had the rockiest relationship — a stepson-to-stepfather relationship. It was always his defense, and he barked people out of the building. It was too much about him. … I was never a self-promoter. I always said (Derrick) Brooks is the best player on the team.
So how did it go down?
We've all talked about it. Monte wanted to go with Mac. Jon looks at (Rod) Marinelli, who has full faith in McFarland. What can he say? I can't fault them for what they did. I was like 30 at the time. I'd take the younger dude who looks like me on tape. What they failed to realize is they only make someone like me once in a lifetime.
Do you think McFarland struggled because of the comparisons to you?
I told him it was going to be tough. I said, "I left some pretty big footprints. That's something you have to live down." But that's the way it is. If they signed me back up, I'd have to play to the standards of 99. You can only compare me to me.
How would you describe your experience with the Raiders?
As dark as a black hole. Stuff went on in that organization that shouldn't go on in sports. I don't think there's one person who knows who or what is making the call. Let's just say the Oakland experience is unique. The phone rings quite a bit on that sideline. Insubordination is grounds for termination in any company.
Did you consider signing a one-day contract with Tampa Bay and retiring as a Buc?
When I talked to Al (Davis) about retiring, that was it. He had already put me on some list or something. I think he still has my rights. If that's the rules, then let it be.
You're living in Orlando. Why did you move from Tampa?
The whole thing with Tampa was over almost five years ago. I dropped my little girl off at school and stopped at my favorite sub shop. A dude with a Bucs hat and T-shirt came up and said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Last time I checked, this wasn't Russia. What am I doing here?"
Sometimes you get signs. I didn't want to be Michael Irvin and get pulled over for doing 55 in a 54 (mph) zone. I went to get my mother another house and saw a place for myself on a lake with a dock. There's no football or baseball team there, nobody to ask me, "What are you doing here?"
Many believe you're a first ballot Hall of Fame player. What do you think?
When it's all said and done, my resume is rivaled by five other people that played the game. Four are in the Hall of Fame and the other will be: Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Green, Jack Ham and Derrick Brooks. They went to at least seven straight Pro Bowls, defensive player of the year and won a world championship. When you can bring up the ghosts of the game, it tells you where you are.
What do you think about possibly going into the Hall of Fame in 2013 with Favre?
How 'bout that? The guy Tony told me to get close to. He retired the same day I did. I woke up and was told he was retiring. I had five good minutes and Favre gets all the tears.
So what now? Any interest in broadcasting?
You just listen. I don't want to go to (ESPN) every week for a two-hour show. I want something short and sweet. I'd love to have a radio gig, just turn on the mic and talk about the topics of the day. I might do that Dancing With the Stars.
Really? They've approached you about that?
Yeah, it's something that sort of came out of nowhere. But I enjoy the idea of training for something else. My whole life has been football. I could hang out in L.A. for a few weeks. My daughter would love it. There's nothing wrong with my smile. I don't think I speak Ebonics. I think I will (do the show)."
If you go
Sapp retirement party
What: Warren Sapp retirement party to benefit Tampa Children's Cancer Center.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 5223 N Orient Road, Tampa
Tickets: $75. Available through Ticketmaster or online at qbkilla.com
Food and entertainment is provided at the event, including a tapas buffet, sushi bar and dessert bar. The dress is upscale casual attire. Music provided by DJ Selfborn.