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Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Ahanotu looking forward to Tampa Bay reunion

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Chidi Ahanotu still lives in Tampa, Fla., where football fans recognize him everywhere he goes. He still imagines finishing his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his employer for eight years.

That won't stop the 49ers' defensive lineman from spilling everything he knows about the Bucs -- and sharing his distaste for Warren Sapp -- as San Francisco prepares to face Tampa Bay on Sunday at Candlestick Park.

"I'll always have fond memories," the Buccaneers' former franchise player said Wednesday. "I helped build something there. I always have dreams of Tampa Bay, closing out my career there -- but I'm planning to play 10 more years."

After cracking the Buccaneers' lineup as a sixth-round draft pick from California in 1993, Ahanotu started 104 games before Tampa Bay released him in a cost-cutting move before the 2001 season.

After single seasons in St. Louis and Buffalo, Ahanotu signed with the 49ers on Aug. 21. Though he missed training camp while searching for the best free-agent offer, Ahanotu quickly has assumed an important role in San Francisco's defensive line rotation.

"He's stepped right in and made his presence felt," defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. "He's given us a veteran pass rush on the edge, and he's a great guy as a teammate."

Ahanotu is a Northern California native who was born in Modesto and graduated from high school in Berkeley, but Tampa became his permanent home during his years as the Bucs' starting left defensive end.

Tampa Bay's defensive scheme hasn't changed much since Ahanotu was released. While he bounced to three teams in three seasons, the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl with the same defense he helped bring to prominence.

If the 49ers want to pick Ahanotu's brain, he's ready to help.

"They haven't come to me to ask me yet, but I was already talking to Jeff (Garcia) about them two weeks ago," Ahanotu said. "Obviously, I still know a lot of those guys, and I know a lot of what they do. It's nothing you can't see on film anyway. There's no secrets in the NFL ... but I'm ready to help out."

Ahanotu spent his final season in Tampa Bay making a weekly commute to Miami to see his two children, and the stress led to a subpar season and his subsequent release when the Bucs signed Simeon Rice.

Ahanotu faced the Buccaneers in 2001 while he was with the Rams. Admittedly, he had a bit of extra motivation: He made a career-high 11 tackles in Tampa Bay's 24-17 win.

A dislike for Sapp, the Bucs' superstar defensive tackle, apparently is part of Ahanotu's motivation against the world champions. Ahanotu refused to give any specifics on his disagreements with Sapp, his teammate for six years, until after Sunday's game.

"Oh, I'll have plenty to say," Ahanotu said.

But when asked if the 49ers would tolerate something similar to Sapp's dance through the Indianapolis Colts' warmup lines before their game earlier this season, Ahanotu laughed.

"That's what he is, is a lot of hot air," Ahanotu said. "If he does that, you already know what's going to happen."