Trapp revels in new image

Ex-Raiders bad guy finds contentment, success with Ravens

RAVENS vs. RAIDERS

AFC Championship

January 13, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

James Trapp adhered to the old image of the Oakland Raiders a little too literally.

Proud of his religious faith and his captaincy of the Ravens' special teams, Trapp said he's a different man than the one who spent his first six seasons in the NFL with the Raiders. Owner Al Davis spent decades cultivating a renegade persona, seeking players with checkered pasts and telling them to "just win, baby." Trapp ate it up.

"I had the attitude from hell," he said.

Known more for his speed than his football ability at Clemson, Trapp was added to the U.S. Olympic track and field team in 1992, and he figures that his demeanor kept him off the 400-meter relay with Carl Lewis and company in Barcelona. A year later, Trapp was drafted in the third round by the Raiders; by 1997, he was a starting safety. Last year, he joined a Ravens franchise with little identity, a severe contrast to the vivid one he left behind.

"Biggest identity in the NFL?" Trapp said. "The Raiders had the biggest identity in the world. Al [Davis] was a great owner. He treated me with respect. He knows how to get his players to believe in the Oakland mystique. Everyone wants to be a Raider, that's what he tells every player who goes there. He plants that in your mind.

"Yeah, I was an outlaw when I was there," he said. "I really just had a selfish attitude, and it took awhile before I realized that that won't last. When I was younger, all I thought about was myself."

Trapp was undisciplined, with a propensity for penalties rather than big plays. The 1995 season was a nightmare. He kicked Ed McCaffrey as the Denver Broncos wide receiver lay in the end zone; was guilty of an unnecessary roughness penalty against Jacksonville that so infuriated some of his teammates, Raiders quarterback Jeff Hostetler berated him on the sideline; and he lost his cool against Kansas City.

Was Trapp that big of a liability with the Raiders?

"No, but he was always hurting himself," said Steve Shafer, Trapp's secondary coach both in Baltimore and Oakland. "When he and I both got here that first year [1999], he knew what had been his downfall. I'm tickled to see that he turned his life around. Whereas he was a little wild and crazy, he learned that that doesn't give him the best chance to be the kind of football player he can be. He's done a complete flip-flop."

Marriage and two daughters - Amanda, 5, and Amir, 3 - changed Trapp's outlook. So did a move from the West Coast to the East, as he signed with the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent in April 1999. Trapp was about to turn 30, and suddenly attending Bible study didn't seem so square.

"I've matured," Trapp said. "I'm a Christian. I'm enjoying what football is about now, that the Lord blessed me with talent and I've got to go out and do my best. The transformation came when I changed scenery. I saw a lot of guys on the team who were believers. I didn't see the believers in Oakland. I didn't want to see them. [Raiders running back] Napoleon Kaufman was in my ear every day, but I didn't want to hear him. I thank him for planting that seed."

Trapp donates time and money to Aunt Hattie's Place, a foster home in northeast Baltimore, and funds a foundation that supports at-risk boys in Baltimore.

"It's called Preparation for Opportunity," Trapp said. "The main objective is to help single mothers with sons, because I was raised like that. I want them to see opportunities. For every bad you see, there's something good to look at. Most of the kids I deal with are from the city. We bring them to games, give them T-shirts, take them to dinner. I'm humbled by them."

The Ravens' defense has humbled opponents this season, and Trapp has helped as an extra defensive back. On opening day against Pittsburgh, he took over at one corner when Chris McAlister cramped up. A week later, he had a quarterback sack in the stirring comeback win over the Jaguars. When the Ravens went to Jacksonville a month later, Trapp started in place of the injured Duane Starks.

Trapp has 25 tackles on defense, and 15 more on special teams, which have provided three touchdowns in the past three games. The Ravens have had three Kyle Richardson punts blocked in the postseason, but that unit's coverage has been a plus. The offense's only touchdown at Tennessee followed a brief Titans possession that started on the home team's 3-yard-line, thanks to Trapp.

It was one of the heads-up plays that got the Ravens to Oakland, where Trapp wants to create some fonder memories.

"I enjoyed being a Raider," Trapp said. "Now I love being a Raven."

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