TAMPA — The fire hasn't died, but it does take coffee breaks. It isn't the old days, when, the man admits, “I was ornery about any and everything.” Today, he'll wave to people in restaurants. Really. I saw him. He'll say, “All right, baby, good to see you.” Really. I heard him.
More and more, he tells himself:
Let it go, Sapp. Let it go.
Maybe his new team and new autograph has helped.
Warren Sapp HOF '13.
“I've got Earl Campbell on speed dial,” Warren Sapp said, like a school kid standing outside the players entrance.
Tonight isn't Canton, though Sapp will receive his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of the Bucs-Dolphins game. It isn't that football stadium in Ohio where he gave thanks and praise.
“That wasn't my house,” Sapp said.
This is his house.
“I'm giddy,” Sapp said.
It's Ring of Honor night, Warren Sapp night, at Raymond James Stadium.
“I would say this is closure for me,” Sapp said.
He'll join Jimmie Giles, Paul Gruber, John McKay ... and Lee Roy.
Lee Roy Selmon made Canton the year Warren Sapp came to Tampa and the NFL. Now they'll be the only Bucs whose numbers are retired.
This is for 99, who helped take a franchise where careers went to die and make it a champion.
“That's why I was so mad when (Greg) Schiano said before he got here this was a laughingstock,” Sapp said. “The hell it was. There was a world championship here.”
Then again, the Bucs are now the only winless team in the NFL.
They could use some Sapp right about now.
Of course, nothing is perfect.
“It's everything but a Ring of Honor night,” Sapp said. “It's Schiano — is he getting fired? It's Richie Incognito and the Dolphins. Now Chidi done thrown it in that I was a bully the whole damn time.”
The man can handle all of that.
He just can't take 0-8. On Sapp night?
“If they don't kick (butt), I'm going to be going crazy,” Sapp said. “If we can't beat the Dolphins in disarray, man, that's it.”
He said, “It's hard to watch, because this is my team until the day I die, now more than ever.”
First, some housekeeping. Sapp again summarily dismissed claims made by former Bucs teammates Chidi Ahanotu and Keyshawn Johnson amid the Incognito mess — claims that 99 bullied them.
“I never ran from anything in this town,” Sapp said. “I've been called everything but a child of God in this town. Why am I going to run from a bullying call from two guys who wouldn't commit to working? I held you as accountable as I held myself. I would cuss myself out. … Two places I've never been questioned in my life: on the football field and in the locker room.”
Some things are perfect. Like tonight's Bucs opponent.
It was 1995. Sapp was a rookie from the U in Miami — “Super Rookie,” some of his Bucs teammates snickered. Sapp had something else on his mind: Winning.
It was the Dolphins who first felt that wrath, the weight of that chip on Sapp's shoulder ... his dirt-road beginnings ... unproven drug accusations on the eve of the draft ... he took it out on the Dolphins when the teams met for their annual summer scrimmages. The Dolphins had never taken those scrimmages seriously. The Bucs were nothing.
Along came Sapp. There he was, a rookie mixing it up, telling Dolphins that they hadn't done squat while he was alive. The kid came at them, he beat them, he drew a line ... in a scrimmage! Bucs history began to change, then and there.
“I didn't give a damn,” Sapp said. “It wasn't happening no more. Not on my watch.”
It's true that it's always been love-hate between Sapp and the city he helped make a football capital in 2002. He embraced greatness, but kept the town at arm's length. It didn't help when the Bucs let him walk, to Oakland, to finish his career.
“I was bitter,” Sapp said. “I had helped build this thing from the ground up and I don't even get a call back, a call saying a decision has been made, you're no longer going to be here, thank you.”
It took a trip back to Tampa to erase the bitterness.
“It was 2005, after I tore my rotator cuff,” Sapp said. “I came back for the Dungy funeral — James' funeral. That's when I let it all go. I see Tony — I've never known a greater man — up there, eulogizing his son. I was in a sling. I fell into Tony's arms. He's holding me up. And I thought, 'Wow, this place holds more memories for me than any other place I know.' ”
Let it go, Sapp. Let it go.
Not to say that 99 doesn't remain a piece of work. He still gets hot. He's straight from the oven on these Bucs — 0-8 on Sapp night? It's killing him. He marvels that it hasn't broken Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
“If this kid turns, it's over,” Sapp said. “If this was me, I'd be railing to the high heavens, there wouldn't be a person spared.”
It's Ring of Honor night.
Warren Sapp's name and number go on a wall forever.
He needs one more thing.
“We better thump them.”