Warren Sapp has firsthand advice as Bucs try to toughen up

Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp made it clear as a rookie that he wasn’t backing down from anyone, mixing it up with the Dolphins during summer scrimmages. [Times file]
Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp made it clear as a rookie that he wasn’t backing down from anyone, mixing it up with the Dolphins during summer scrimmages. [Times file]
Published July 23, 2017

TAMPA — It was a molten morning, surface of Mercury, on the football field at Skyway Park, near Tampa International Airport. Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp was working with some of the Bucs' defensive linemen. HBO Hard Knocks crews followed them. Training camp was a week away. Sapp pointed to quarterback Jameis Winston, drenched in sweat, throwing spirals to assorted teammates.

"There's your badass, right out there," Sapp said.

Takes one to know one.

The topic is a six-letter word, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it means in the NFL. But who better to size it up than Sapp, whose jolly ferocity and unblinking swagger — and excellence — anchored great Bucs defenses, including one that forged a Super Bowl championship in the 2002 season?

It was Bucs coach Dirk Koetter who uttered the B word after the draft.

"What Koetter is trying to say is I want a very talented, competent, executing football team that goes out every week and jumps on somebody," Sapp said. "If he's looking for that kind of team, he better bring it off his quarterback. … The confidence, the arm, the head, the legs. I'm going to have to go through him."

Sapp returned to the word.

"It's not a negative at all," he said. "It means when the other guys go to sleep at night, they're not sleeping easy, thinking about playing you. When you played Reggie White, you knew no curse words would be uttered, just 'God bless you.' A badass was coming just the same."

He listed the men who walked that walk on those old Bucs teams:

"Chartric Darby, Greg Spires. Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks. Dwight Smith, John Lynch, Ronde Barber …"

He didn't forget the offense:

"Randall McDaniel … my quarterback, The Bull, Brad Johnson. Joe Jurevicius — badass. Keenan McCardell would eat your heart out. … Alstott — the A Train was a badass.

"We called it 'dawg' in our locker room. D-A-W-G. That's what Koetter is trying to say. I need a dawg in my locker room. I want somebody who bites."

As an NFL rookie in 1995, Sapp startled a franchise into an awakening when he mixed it up with the Dolphins in summer scrimmages. Who was this kid?

Sapp routinely ran from the tunnel at Raymond James Stadium and skipped through other teams' warmup drills on the way to his stretching.

His play never backed down, either.

"Deion Sanders at corner was a badass," Sapp said. "Rod Woodson at safety is badass. It's those guys who, even when you have a plan, you're not sure it will work."

And it's about winning. A real key to being bad.

Hall of Famer linebacker and former Bucs great Derrick Brooks said, "I would add the word 'respect.' It means you've earned a level of respect. Twenty some years later and we still have a defense named after us. What level of 'badass' is higher than that?"

Sapp reeled off names:

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"Julius Peppers was a dawg. Drew Brees was a dawg. Cris Carter was a dawg. Chris Doleman — dawg. John Randle — dawg. Randy Moss, the only guy who ever outran the Cover 2 — dawg. Barry Sanders, the ultimate dawg. Brett Favre. We had dawgs for all time, for the ages.

"Teams? Those Cowboys teams that won three championships. The Ravens, not the last watered-down defense but the first one, badasses. The '85 Bears were the baddest of all. Elway and 'The Three Amigos' … Doug Williams and the 'Fun Bunch' with the Hogs up front, Timmy Smith running the ball. They were bad."

The Patriots?

"Tom (Brady) and Bill (Belichick) are badass."

To Sapp, part of the Bucs' attitude and aura began in their old rat-trap facility.

"We had a hole in the wall," he said. " We used that as a rallying cry. Let's take them to the 'woodshed,' we'd say. Let's drag them into our misery. It was prehistoric.

"You know why we were a tough crew? We were battle-tested. We had done the wild-card game. Did the divisional. We had done Philadelphia and run into a graveyard. We learned to band together."

The B word is about towering over opponents, Sapp said. He thought of Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle.

"My rookie year, Tampa Stadium, or Houlihan's, Johnny Randle dug the word 'losers' into the field with his cleat," Sapp said. "In between the 10- and 20-yard line. Losers. Right where we could see it. Absolute badass."

That isn't this Bucs team. Not yet. Could it one day fit the bill?

"We're about to find out, aren't we?" Sapp said.

He sat at a picnic table and looked at the field, at the last man working: Jameis Winston.

"Look at him out there," Sapp said.

Takes one to know one.