Fair Warning: Sapp is nasty
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

"Warn" is what you end up calling him. If you're smart.

So is that good advice, or a familiar way to pronounce his name?

Or both?

Warren Sapp
Here's hoping Warren Sapp gets into the end zone a ton more.
"Warn" is a familiar kind of guy. He's familiar and also pretty irresistible, actually. I've gotten to know Warn, somewhat, as have many other Max "Not-So-Tender" Mercys in the Media Circus who put the word out on guys.

Warn knows who we are.

Dan LeBatard in Miami sent Warn a nice love letter for doing that sick little typical-Warn Beyonce Bounce at the Atlanta game after he scored a touch. We've got this little number we do here called "Voices of SportsCenter," Dan, me and a couple of the boys; Dan sent Warn a love letter on his at-bat last Monday. Seemed appropriate to me, although most of us Max "Not-So-Tender" Mercys are not in the habit of casting love letters upon the waters.

Jason Whitlock is always gung-hoing and Gunga-Dinning about how Warn is Sappalicious as persona/interview. You'd think a guy named Whitlock would be drawn to a key named Key. But no. Hardly the case. Whitlock and Warn have talked about writing a book together; basically all I want to know is, what are they and some publisher waiting for? Drew Rosenhaus? Please.

Warn gets it.

Then Warn gives it back.

Warn gives all us media Max & Maxine "Not-So-Tender" Mercys a boffo quote like -- "Look like Tarzan, play like Jane." Now I defy you to find another NFL player, or athlete period, who is so pithy, funny, concise and honest about his fellow competitors. That's not even one of his fall-off-the-chair quotes. Warn is the NFL's answer to Charles Barkley, only Warn is even funnier, and more honest, and shrewder. So be it Keyshawn Johnson, Tony Dungy (yes, we've noticed Dungy's Colts come to Raymond James next Monday night, Oct. 6) or Chucky Gruden, Sapp will say what he thinks.

Warn is one shrewd cat. Back a millennium ago, when he was about to be drafted out of Miami in 1995, some jealous wannabe asked him to test-drive a stick of Humboldt County's finest sensimilla; he did, and he got in trouble for that, although there are worse things, there are far worse things, in fact. But it doesn't take worse things to bring you down; it only takes the wrong thing at the wrong time. Did Warn keep knocking his head against a wall? No.

Now he may be biding his time until he retires when he'll go out to Cali and buy half of Humboldt County. But Warn wasn't going to make the same mistake twice during his playing career and screw up his life and disappoint himself. Warn has common sense. Warn also speaks his mind. And then he gives you this look that asks, "Right?" Or, "Is that the kind of take you need?" And we smile. Warn may be the most popular player in the NFL with media types, because he understands just what we need, and he gives it to us. This may be just a natural and happy coincidence, and not calculated on his part; but either way, we've got what we need, so what do we care? That's how Max & Maxine "Not-So-Tender" Mercys operate.

Warn gives us what we need.

Unless we happen to be playing football against him.

Then he give us pure D hell. Then he is all up on our ass.

Chad Clifton
Chad Clifton hasn't been the same since Sapp delivered his block.
Case in point: Green Bay offensive lineman Chad Clifton, last year. You know the play in question. Sure you do. Brett Favre (another of Sapp's foils -- not so much now, since Favre's skills and Green Bay's rep have fallen off) threw a pick. During the return, Warn caught Clifton in what you might call a non-football-playing position. So Warn blocked him. Not low, at his knees, but high, at his shoulders. It's a matter of quickness, leverage; Warn understands that on the fly, logically, instinctively, scientifically, it doesn't really matter how he understands it. He gets it one way or another. And Clifton got it high on this play. Using all leverage, Warn de-cleated him. The Packers have not been the same since. Clifton certainly hasn't.

So is Warren Sapp A Big Fat Cheap Shot Artist?

Let me say this: I've seen Warn back in his home town, dirty Apopka, where the street where his mother lives was ceremoniously named after him. Well, it wasn't very much of a ceremony, but Warn didn't blow it off; he showed up, smiled, even though it wasn't this nice big boulevard. They'd named an alley disguised as a street after Deacon Jones in Eatonville, Florida, a few years back and a few miles away from Apopka. It's overgrown by weeds now. Does Deacon presage Warn? Whether he does or not, Warn went, anyway. Warn cooperates with life.

I've seen Warn standing next to LeBron James, when LeBron came through, surrounded by his court, to Warn's town of Orlando, to both practice and play summer-league games. Warn stood on the side of a private indoor court of the Magic, while all these so-called "stars" and coaches and agents milled around and about, looking to get in LeBron's vision. I wouldn't have noted Warn standing there if I hadn't looked hard. He was low-key, made himself small, standing off to one side. But he was also waiting. "If you don't make a big deal over me, that's OK with me," he said. "But if you act like I'm not even there, that says something too." Luckily, once I had recognized him, I'd just naturally lit up, and beamed at him and said, "Hey Warn!" And he smiled back and said, "Yep." Guess who LeBron went out of his way to find, parting the sea around him to beam and say, "Hey! Warren Sapp!"

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I've seen Warn on that hilarious video game commercial with that guy from, they tell me, Saturday Night Live. I don't know his name (my friend Moon says his name is "Michael Irvin;" she's damn near as funny as Warn). That series of spots is big-time funny. So Warn's even great as a straight man.

I saw Warn at the TD Waterhouse Center for an Orlando Magic NBA game last spring, wearing a No. 99 Orlando Magic jersey, throwing up the ball for a ceremonial tip-off, bathed in cheers, digging it. The jersey was made for him special, because he's a Super Bowl champ now. There he was, smiling, hugging everybody, including me (you may say that's Un-Mercy-like, but tell me, if Warn Sapp decides to hug you, how exactly do you get out of it?), looking like a chocolate Jabba the Hutt, but decidedly lighter on his feet.

Oh, he's a real dancing bear, Warn is. I asked Jim Brown about Sapp. Why? Because, when you look at Warn, at 6-foot-1-and-change, 300 not-sculpted bills, as we've come to accept "sculpted," you can't help but think, "Where is it?" Or, if you are me, "Where's it at?" Where does this crazy skill come from? He's not a V-cut man-mountain of honed muscle. There's plenty of swole-up guys in the League. Some have been juicing Creatine and what-not for years, and not thinking anything of it, thinking, "It's not like steroids or nothing, it's just enhancers. I would've torn that sink out of that wall anyway."

Sapp is a throwback, a pear-shaped whirling dervish who physically resembles Artie Donovan much more than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's well-tempered, in control. He's au natural. You can tell. One more thing:

Warren Sapp
His quick feet can strut, too.
"He's so %#$@&! quick," said Jim Brown.

"Yes ... ungodly quick," I said.

Jim Brown shrugged, as if to say, "Well ... there it is." Sapp proves an old athletic theory. He plays down in the trenches with muscle-bound leviathans who are taller and outweigh him by 40, 50, 60 pounds. He consistently beats their heads in, off the ball, around blocks; he gets their hands off his him with jab steps, woo!-moves, shrugs, spins, slap-aways, arm-unders, rips. He will not stop, ever, until you are down. So it is better to be quick than strong. Best to be both, but better to be quick. Better still to survive.

So is Warren Sapp A Big Fat Cheap Shot Artist?

I'd say Warn is a truly great football player. It took me time to come this, to appreciate it, but ... there it is. Now, whatever else that makes you, then he's that, too, but he is a Classic football player. Did you know Warn ended Jerry Rice's career a few years back? Maybe it was '98, or '99, I can't recall now, but the Bucs were playing the Niners at the old Sombrero, and Rice got the ball on an end-around, of the type of play he has scored on, oh, 11 or 12 times among the 200-odd touchdowns he scored during his singular career. As an offensive weapon, nobody could touch Jerry Rice. Not until Warn.

"I underestimated his closing speed, his quickness," Rice told me much, much later, once he could bring himself to speak on it. Rice was going full tilt when Warn the Dancing Bear sprang at him and snatched Rice by the collar and yanked him down, snapping the ligaments in Rice's knee. Rice was never the same. Took a couple years just to come back. He was never the same for the Niners; Jer enjoyed a curtain call with the Raiders, helping them get back to the Super Bowl, where he caught a 48-yard TD bomb in the Bucs' blowout over Oakland. That was some tremendous accomplishment for your average receiver, totally out of the box for a 40-year-old receiver -- but you do realize that wasn't Jerry Rice out there by then, don't you? No, that's not the same creature at all, not in the same universe, no more than it was Muhammad Ali on his stool against Larry Holmes in 1980 in Vegas.

Nobody could touch the real Jerry Rice. Except Warn. And do you know, Jerry Rice never once complained to me about that hit, or that play? Warn caught him missing. That was it. Warn never mourned over it, either, but he's aware that it happened; he even mentioned it recently to Whitlock, when he was asked if he ever called to check on Chad Clifton. I never called to check on Jerry Rice, Warn said. Then that look, as if to ask. Right? Do you get what I'm saying to you? Case closed on everybody else. No, Warn never called or sent flowers to Rice; that's not what football players do.

Warren Sapp
Sapp has a firm grasp on the art of tackling.
Now I've seen Warn, for whatever reason, drop a running back square on his dome, like his helmet was a drill bit and Warn was auditioning for the sequel to "Armageddon." Frankly, before I got to know Warn a little bit, I'd have thought, "Damn. Cheap-o." But after knowing him, I thought, "Whatever that S.O.B. running back did to Warn, he probably won't be doing it again soon."

Football is about frontier justice.

You're your own peacemaker out there.

Now, if you want to talk about cheap shots, pure, outright, dirty, inexcusable, where's-Wyatt-Earp-or-Tom-Horn-when-you-need-him cheap shots, I've seen two quite egregious ones in the past week, one intentional, one maybe not. Doesn't make it any less cheap either way.

Warn's own teammate, wide receiver Keenan McCardell, took out Carolina D-lineman Kavika Pittman's knees, diving in on a hidden crackback while the D-lineman was engaged with a blocker. It even looked like a sneak attack move on videotape, and now Pittman is out for the year. And his teammates, like Julie Peppers, who takes no back seat to Warn or anybody -- look like Tarzan, play like Kong -- did not take kindly to Keenan McCardell's play in Carolina's big upset win over the Bucs at Raymond James on Sept. 14. McCardell doesn't want to go on that field in Carolina on Nov. 9 without having done a lot of neck exercises, I can tell you that. His head better be on a swivel that day.

So is it Warren Sapp who is a Big Fat Cheap Shot Artist?

Having considered the matter, I'd say no. I'd say Warn plays a helluva game of football, understands what he's doing, knows you must protect yourself at all times, doles out his version of frontier justice from time to time. Should his time ever come, which it does for all of us, he won't whine about it.

After all, it wasn't Warren Sapp who scraped his knees across Daunte Culpepper's lower back, breaking his transverse process bone in three or four places last week. That would be linebacker Wali Rainer of the Detroit Lions who did that. Now, in a way, I can understand it; there are dozens of cheap shots that happen every week in the NFL, but that does not excuse it, or absolve Rainer from any future applications of frontier justice. This was not Warn snatching Jerry Rice right out of his cleats and shattering his knee in the process, or getting the leverage on Chad Clifton and reminding him to keep his head up, or Barry Sanders giving Rod Woodson the Mother of All Shakes, shattering Woodson's knee by faking him right out of his shoes.

This was a Cheap Shot. In fact, we may now start calling him Wali "Cheap Shot" Rainer. Now, Daunte Culpepper is a big man. I've seen him at the run up at the gym, and the guy is huge, man. He looks as big as Warn! And yet, this is how vulnerable they all are: Even as big as you are, if you reach around your thickening middle, place your fingers at the base of your spine -- see? No matter how big the rest of you gets, that is vulnerable, that spot is not enveloped by much flesh. You are exposed there. Football players have three Achilles heels: the two down at their feet, and the spine.

Wali Rainer hit Daunte Culpepper after the latter had dived into the end zone. Culpepper was a good four yards into the end zone by the time Rainer hit him. The play's over. OK, stone him, anyway, cause every little hit hurts, and it adds up, and because he won't like it, and because it's frustrating, getting beat in a big game; you have responsibilities, to your teammates, coaches, mostly to keep food on your family's table. Frustrating when you don't get there in time.

But this is when the professionalism must come out. You must save your frustration, file it away, use it on an ensuing play. Can't get caught up by it. Rainer hit Culpepper, then surfed across him, then brought his knees up into Culpepper's back. Hard. It was as bad as that Northwestern assistant coach who came out onto the field and acted like he was congratulating a defender while getting in a sneaky punch on Air Force QB Chance Harridge a few weeks ago. Harridge punched him back, but not hard enough. Should have clocked the guy. This bum wasn't even playing. At least Wali Rainer was suited up for his cheap shot. At least he's available for frontier justice.

What can I tell you? This ... is the NFL. These are its Chronicles.

So is Warren Sapp a Big Fat Cheap Shot Artist?

No. But cheap shot artists are out there. There's a little cheap shot artist in every NFL football player. So, if you're out there, then I'd advise that you keep your head on a swivel. And protect yourself at all times. And never, ever assume. Heads up, pilgrims. Stick close to Warn. I would.

Well now. You've been Warned.

Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.

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