There was no bigger Warren Sapp supporter inside One Buc Place than director of college scouting Tim Ruskell, who did much of the background research on the University of Miami standout. "He was exactly what we were looking for," Ruskell said. "I remember other scouts saying he's too short, he's too small. I knew he was going to be a handful to deal with as a person, but I had no reservations about his talent or how hard he worked. "The No. 1 thing about Sapp was his passion to play the game. The second was his incredible ability. Forget about him being brash, loud and confident. It always came back to him as a difference-maker. "His intelligence would manifest in his instincts. He wasn't just watching the guy in front of him - he watched everybody. I fought for him and had his back and he knew that. Did I know we were getting two Hall of Famers in Sapp and (Derrick) Brooks? Hey, it's the Bucs. But what I did know was that Warren and Derrick didn't look like anyone else.
"(Coach) Sam Wyche was nervous about the Sapp pick, but he could feel our excitement and the Glazers became excited, too. They were the guys who gave the critical thumbs up on Warren. "It really hurt Sapp that he wasn't among the top players chosen in 1995. He resents people for that - other teams, the press, even the Bucs for making him wait until the 12th pick. That was a guy who didn't need another chip on his shoulder." Rich McKay was in his first full year as Bucs general manager heading into the 1995 draft, which proved to be the catalyst as an NFL weakling quickly grew into a league power with the selections of Sapp and Brooks. Not a bad way to start, right? "The history of mistakes in the first round of the draft suggest they are opportunities lost," said McKay, now president of the Atlanta Falcons. "Our strategy as an organization heading into the '95 draft was that if two players were close, we were going to take the Florida guy to try and win our fan base over. "I saw Warren play at least twice myself at Miami and you couldn't help but notice what kind of factor he was. He was involved on all three downs. At the combine, I can remember him being very gregarious, but that was before the drug rumors had come out. "Certainly, it's gratifying any time one of your players goes into the Hall of Fame. You realize how much goes into a player's success after you pick him. I saw many players fail that I thought were great football players. He may say that the '95 draft added another chip on his shoulder, but Warren didn't have a great rookie year. It was OK. What motivates Warren is the kind of competitor he is. He's not a guy you want to play cards with or try to win an argument against. "What was critical is we had an unbelievably talented player who was able to stabilize the franchise and we put him with the best position coach (defensive line coach Rod Marinelli) I've ever been around." When the transformational first round concluded, McKay, Ruskell and director of player personnel Jerry Angelo sauntered out to the back porch at the old One Buc Place to reflect on the haul of Sapp and Brooks. "We went outside Tim's office and we had the TV on," McKay said. "There may have been a few cigars around, maybe a few beers. We looked at each other and we knew things weren't going to be the same in Tampa from that moment on."