- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

SAN DIEGO Warren Sapp is living large at Super Bowl XXXVII.

Tampa Bay teammates Brad Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Jeff Christy and John Lynch have waited longer to play in a Super Bowl, but no Buccaneer is enjoying this week more than the irrepressible eighth-year defensive tackle.

While Oakland showed up late for Tuesday's mandatory Media Day and several Raiders cut out early from yesterday's interview session, Sapp loves the repartee with reporters so much that he stayed well past his appointed hour Tuesday. And there was no question about which Buc was going to follow coach Jon Gruden onto the featured interview stage yesterday, only whose throwback jersey Sapp was going to wear.

Sapp chose a garish green Eagles No.17 in honor of former Philadelphia receiver Harold Carmichael, two days after sporting ex-Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski's No.7. Sapp innocently claimed that neither choice had anything to do with the Bucs' 27-10 trouncing of the favored Eagles in last Sunday's NFC Championship game.

"I'm almost in awe sitting here," Sapp said. "You saw Emmitt Smith sitting here all those years with his shades on, Leon Lett sitting there for 15 minutes and sweating and not say a word and it was something you wanted to be a part of. You have to have fun with it. I'm like a little kid all day long."

Even such chatty Bucs as cornerback Ronde Barber defer to Sapp when it comes to loquaciousness.

"There's nobody like Warren," Barber said. "He's the biggest personality I've ever met with the stuff that he says and the way that he says it. I love listening to Warren talk. He's a quote machine. If you're in Warren's good graces, he's your best friend. If you're not, he might embarrass you. He's got the biggest heart and the biggest mouth. He needs to be the loudest. He's the biggest [rooster] of the walk."

On the field, of course, Sapp is a disruptive force. It is no accident that the Bucs, 42-86 in the eight years before Sapp's arrival, are 70-50 since.

"Warren likes to make people laugh, and he speaks very well and is very intelligent," Bucs defensive end Greg Spires said. "But he's also a great player. I've never played with an inside guy who's as athletic as Warren."

Super quick for a man carrying 303 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame, Sapp was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and is headed to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl next week. Sapp's 72 sacks put him second among active defensive tackles behind 13-year veteran John Randle of Seattle. The only active players with more sacks and less or equal seniority are ends: teammate Simeon Rice, Philadelphia's Hugh Douglas and Tennessee's Kevin Carter. Oakland's Rod Coleman is the only tackle who had more sacks this year than Sapp's 7½.

"I'm the best the game has to offer," Sapp said. "No doubt about it. If there's a better defensive tackle in this game, show him to me. I'm standing at that door that lets you into immortality with all the great ones. To say you got a ring validates it all."

If the Bucs who have been the NFL's best defensive team for six years are so validated Sunday, Sapp surely will have used a little psychology and history as motivational weapons. When all the talk before last Sunday's game in Philadelphia was how the Bucs couldn't win at Veterans Stadium or in cold weather, Sapp took it personally.

"It shocked us that we were being disrespected in that manner," Sapp said. "We were going to show them. The No.1 defense was scheduled to show up last Sunday at 3 o'clock and we were going to punch our clock, you better believe that."

Sapp hasn't forgotten being in San Diego before a 1996 game and hearing a sportscaster refer to his team as the "Yuccaneers." Sapp and fellow rookie defensive standout Derrick Brooks vowed that they would change the image formed from 14 losing seasons.

"We were the laughingstock of the league for a long time, and we had to turn that around," Sapp said. "That takes a whole makeover. It's a great feeling to share this with the guys who played in the icicle orange uniforms before us. They helped keep this thing standing."

If Sapp and Co. can control the Raiders' top-ranked offense three days from now, the Bucs will finally be the last team standing.

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