For these two Bucs, talk is steep

Sapp, Johnson are men of action, and many words, in Tampa's turnaround

Super Bowl, Raiders Vs. Bucs

January 22, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - Warren Sapp wore sunglasses to hide a cut around his right eye. Keyshawn Johnson wore a smirk to let the media know what he thought of this obligation.

Media day dawned on Super Bowl XXXVII yesterday, marking the official opening of excess and extravagance, and the two most loquacious Tampa Bay Buccaneers were holding court on sport's biggest stage.

"It feels like my body is buzzing right now," Sapp said, seated at a podium on the sidelines of Qualcomm Stadium. "My feet are going crazy under here. I feel like a kid in a candy store."

The Bucs' outspoken, All-Pro defensive tackle was subdued - even in awe, he suggested - at his good fortune. Johnson, their go-to receiver, wasn't quite as giddy.

"If I didn't have to be here," Johnson said, "I wouldn't be."

Johnson has been known to engage his coach, Jon Gruden, in sideline confrontation, but he doesn't dance in the end zone after a touchdown. He once wrote a book demanding the ball, but spent a good part of yesterday disputing the label he is a selfish player.

"I'm just a talkative person," he said. "If you don't like Keyshawn Johnson, you have a problem with yourself. I don't create problems. I don't do drugs. I drink a little bit, but nothing bad. Everybody does that."

Gruden, in his first year with the Bucs, played down his sideline fracas with his star receiver earlier this season. He calls Johnson one of the game's most intense competitors.

"He is a very talented player," Gruden said. "Change is hard in this business, and I've learned a lot about him as a person and maybe how to deal with him better.

"He is a physical guy. He plays every down hard. He is a blocker. He is a great finisher. When he gets totally acclimated to this style of offense, he is going to be even more of a force than he is now. And right now, he is still very much a force."

After catching 106 passes in 2001, Johnson dropped to 76 under Gruden this season. But his 14.6 average gain per catch was the highest of his career. He is fifth in the NFL with 558 receptions since 1996, when he was the first pick in the draft by the New York Jets.

Part of his persona, however, is never feeling fulfilled.

"I'm always stubborn, I'm always frustrated," Johnson said. "That's just who I am. Either you like it or you don't. I'm always frustrated. I'm always not satisfied."

When Johnson, 30, wore out his welcome with the Jets in 1999, he asked to be traded to the Raiders, his favorite team as a youngster. The Jets shopped him to several teams, including the Ravens and Bucs.

"I didn't want to go to Baltimore. I didn't want to go to Washington," he said. "I wanted to go to a team that could get me to the Super Bowl. The Raiders did have what it took to get the deal done.

"I didn't know Baltimore was going to the Super Bowl [in 2000]. They wouldn't have run the ball if I went there. They would have thrown it. It would have changed the way they did things with Jamal Lewis."

Johnson was a Raiders fan as a youngster, but Sapp grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan. When he arrived in Tampa in 1995, the Bucs were in the 13th year of a 14-year losing streak. It wasn't until Tony Dungy became coach in 1996 that they turned the corner and ended the streak.

Sapp, 30, said the low point that first season under Dungy was a midseason trip to San Diego. Tampa was 2-8, preparing for a game against the Chargers, when ESPN's NFL Countdown show ridiculed the Bucs, calling them the Yuccaneers.

Sapp watched with linebacker Derrick Brooks that day and together they decided to make a difference.

"We said quietly that we were going to be the foundation that turned this team around," Brooks said. "It's quite ironic that we've kind of come full circle. We have not been here [to San Diego] since then, and now we're back here on the biggest stage ever to win a championship and bring this franchise full circle."

In his eighth season, Sapp is a four-time All-Pro and needs just seven sacks to topple Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon's club record of 78 1/2 sacks. But Sapp has had just half a sack in his past 10 games, leading to speculation that he may be playing with an injury.

Sapp, who hurt his eye and hand in Sunday's NFC championship victory at Philadelphia, was feeling no pain yesterday, though.

"I'm just in awe," he said. "I've been in college national championship games, but that's nothing like the Super Bowl.

"This is the culmination of my career, sitting here today."

At a glance

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) vs. Oakland Raiders (13-5)

What: Super Bowl XXXVII

Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When: Sunday, 6:18 p.m.

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Line:Raiders by 3 1/2

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