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Sapp-Favre rivalry results in mutual respect

Brett Favre has countless anecdotes and memories from his 20-year career. But every time the three-time MVP quarterback speaks at a luncheon or takes questions from fans, Favre said one name almost always comes up. Warren Sapp. "And I'm usually the one bringing him up," Favre says. "They want to hear stories." With Favre, 43, there's no shortage of Sapp stories. They were two of the NFL's most colorful and competitive players, their never-ending trash talk and epic on-field battles sparking one of the all-time greatest personal rivalries. Nobody sacked Favre more than Sapp, whose 11 against the former Packers and Vikings star were his most against any quarterback. But for all of the snarls, smack talk — and even head butts — no one respects Sapp more than Favre, who called him one of the top three greatest defensive players he faced. Favre said the two have forged an unlikely friendship over the years and keep in touch.

And Favre said he was honored to be invited by the former Bucs defensive tackle to attend his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Canton, Ohio.

"I would have never thought the two of us would become friends like we have," Favre said. "It was a mutual respect, I think, as true competitors. You disliked playing against each other, but there was always something about it that challenged us. I think we pushed each other, in a strange sort of way, to be great players."

Said Sapp: "I always said we were just two country boys that if he went and got five friends and I went and got five friends, we were going to play until the sun goes down. It was so much fun because he wasn't backing down. He wasn't getting off the tracks. He was going to meet you head up and see what you've got. That's what you want. You want the best."

• • •

When Sapp burst onto the NFL scene in 1995, Favre, who was in his fifth season, already was the best. He won three straight MVP awards (1995-97) and led the Packers to a Super Bowl title in 1996 and a Super Bowl berth in 1997.

After Tony Dungy took over as Bucs coach in 1996, he had a simple message to Sapp.

"He said, 'You've got Brett Favre, and (the rest of) this team has the Green Bay Packers,' " Sapp said.

Sapp first got Favre's attention during their only playoff meeting, a cold day at Lambeau Field on Jan 4. 1998. The Packers won 21-7, but Sapp beat up Favre, sacking him three times and forcing two fumbles.

"Warren Sapp was unblockable — literally unblockable," Favre said. "Even when we were beating them, he would hit me pretty much every play. The more he hit me, the more it (ticked) me off and the more I wanted to play outstanding against him. Because I knew if I did, that was something."

Sapp will never forget a heated exchange — and hand-slap — during that game, which set the stage for the rivalry. After Favre completed an 18-yard pass on third down to end the third quarter, Sapp started heading for his sideline.

"(Favre) said, 'Hey, where the hell are you going?' " Sapp recalled. "I had to stop and go back. (Packers coach Mike) Holmgren tries to stop him from coming back to me. He snatched loose from Holmgren, and that's when I knew he was like me. He walked up to me and said, 'What do you want to do, fat boy?' I said, 'I ain't going nowhere. One more quarter, me and you. We're going to find out who the baddest man today is.'

"He said, 'I'm with you.' We slapped hands. And he went back to Holmgren, and I went down the sideline."

• • •

For the record, Favre said he would trash talk with Sapp, but he would never start it.

"I always tell people if I didn't have equipment on and it was just he and I walking down the street and we got into it, I'd run, and he'd probably catch me," Favre said. "But I had equipment and teammates with me, so I felt pretty damn brave."

Steve Mariucci, a former Packers assistant, said Favre would be so brazen in his war of words with Sapp at the line of scrimmage, his offensive linemen would get upset, asking him to cool it.

"They'd say, 'Quit yelling at that guy. Quit stirring him up. You're just going to (tick) him off even more. We don't want him riled up more than he is.' " said Mariucci, now an analyst on the NFL Network along with Sapp.

Sapp wasn't used to being challenged verbally on the field, especially by quarterbacks, whom he labeled the "pinatas of sports" in his book, Sapp Attack. Sapp wrote in his book it was Favre's wife, Deanna, who finally got the gunslinger to relent.

"She was afraid he was just getting my engines going; that eventually he was going to get hurt," Sapp wrote. "In my memory, I believe that was about the time I started complimenting Brett about the lovely dress he was wearing."

• • •

Sapp saved some his best one-liners for Favre's linemen. Packers guard Joe Andruzzi made his first NFL start during a Monday Night Football game at Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 7, 1998. Andruzzi, undrafted from Southern Connecticut State, would play 10 seasons in the league and win three Super Bowls with the Patriots. But during this Bucs' 24-22 victory, he was fresh meat to Sapp.

"First play of the game, Warren and I walk up to the line," Favre said. "Warren lines up, digs his feet in under (center Frank Winters). He gets down on one knee and says, 'Andruzzi, you picked the wrong night to make your first start.' When I said, 'hut' I don't think Joe ever saw him. He was by him so fast."

Mariucci said one of the main reasons Favre first started using the shotgun formation was because of Sapp.

"It saved some wear and tear on his bones," Mariucci said.

Favre said he relied heavily on Winters, his longtime center and roommate, to protect him from Sapp's wrath. So when Winters, having suffered a broken foot, told him at halftime during a game in Tampa that he couldn't play the second half, Favre pleaded.

"I'm getting my (butt) knocked off as it is, and this is going bad to worse," Favre said.

The Packers used Jeff Dellenbach, then a 13-year veteran, in Winter's place.

"Sapp digs in, puts his knee on the ground and said, 'Dellenbach, I thought you retired a long time ago,' " Favre said. "Dellenbach, as good as he was, was no match for Sapp. And that's the way Warren was. He was not afraid to tell you it's going to be a good game. You can't block me."

• • •

Favre would have loved to have played with Sapp, much like he did with Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White near the end of his career. As much as Favre and Sapp butted heads, he said it was an honor to play against him.

Though Favre won't be able to make it to Canton, he'll likely join Sapp in the Hall of Fame when he's eligible in 2016. Then, the two rivals will be fittingly linked and, likely, fighting forever.

Says Mariucci: "I'm sure their two busts in Canton will be jawing back and forth every night for eternity."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Sapp-Favre rivalry results in mutual respect 08/01/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 11:08pm]
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