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Sapp takes on ghost of Reggie White

10/8/1999

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.