Sapp takes on ghost of Reggie White
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- What Reggie White was, Warren Sapp hopes to be.
White, the pre-eminent defensive lineman of the 1990s, will be honored by the Green Bay Packers at halftime of their meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.
Sapp will be at Lambeau Field, but he'll likely be resting from 30 minutes of chasing, catching and yapping at Brett Favre. While White's legacy is secure, Sapp is still making his mark.
"He's that same kind of disruptive force," Packers offensive tackle Ross Verba said. "Reggie and Warren have a lot of things in common, mostly in the way they make teams look over their shoulders all the time."
Though they play different positions -- White was a defensive end, while Sapp is a tackle -- they both specialize in getting into the offensive backfield and wreaking havoc. Perhaps just as importantly, Sapp demands constant double-teams that free up teammates to excel, just like White did.
And like White did for years, Sapp is learning to play through pain. Sapp broke his hand on Sept. 26 while tackling Denver's Terrell Davis, and he wore street clothes during Tampa Bay's 21-14 loss to the Vikings last week.
Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense didn't exactly fold up, but it was clear the Bucs missed their on-field leader.
"His absence in the Minnesota game showed up real quick," Packers coach Ray Rhodes said. "Their defense feeds off the disruption he causes."
Sapp is listed as probable, and he has made it clear he'll be in the lineup. He was selected NFC defensive player of the month for September after racking up 16 tackles and four sacks in just three games.
"It's always fun to go to Lambeau," he said. "It's one of the greatest places in football to play, and I really look forward to it every year."
By and large, the Packers seem to afford Sapp more respect than similarly talented linemen such as Minnesota's John Randle. That's probably because of Sapp's tradition of success against Green Bay, including seven sacks of Favre in four seasons.
The Packers don't believe Sapp's hand injury will limit his effectiveness. They say he'd be the best player on the field with one hand tied behind his back.
"You stop looking for Warren Sapp, and that's when he's got Brett on the ground," Verba said.
Both Sapp and Favre, the NFC's offensive player of the month, say the depth of their on-field rivalry has been overblown. They engaged in a well-documented war of words during Green Bay's win in a 1997 divisional playoff game, but the two have since become acquaintances, and they worked together during the summer on charity events.
"It's not a matchup," Favre said. "I don't block Warren. I just have to run from him, and I can't outrun him. ... He likes to talk, and I like to talk, but we don't determine the game."
Instead, Sapp might be running his mouth at inexperienced Green Bay guards Joe Andruzzi and Mike Wahle, who will have most of the one-on-one assignments against Sapp.
"It's definitely a challenge," said Wahle, who will be playing his fifth NFL game. "I can't do it by myself. We need a team effort."
Favre is more concerned with jump-starting an inconsistent offense that managed just one touchdown in a 119-minute span during Green Bay's last two games. The Packers have struggled to maintain consistent drives, even while Dorsey Levens led the league in all-purpose yards.
That offense could be in big trouble against the Buccaneers' Sapp-led defensive machine. Tampa Bay (2-2) has allowed just 41 first downs in its four games, fewest in the league.
The game also figures prominently in the NFC Central race. The Packers enter the game fresh from their bye week and the second of two last-second wins, while the Bucs are making their second trip to the Upper Midwest in two weeks.
"The Packers are probably like us," Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said. "They're 2-1 ... but the reality is they could be 0-3, so they're probably not happy with their performance."
Tampa Bay began its 1998 season with the same back-to-back trip to Minnesota and Green Bay. The Bucs never recovered from consecutive losses, finishing out of the playoffs at 8-8 even though they recovered to beat the Packers and the Vikings in Florida.
"We did win the last one, so that gives us a little bit of hope," Dungy said.
Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press