Sapp can’t wait to renew friendly rivalry with Favre at Lambeau Field
Favre was the unquestioned leader of the perennial division favorite Green Bay Packers, and Sapp was the motormouthed engine of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that was determined to knock Favre and the Packers off their perch.
The resulting on-field confrontations between Sapp and Favre were more jaw-to-jaw than toe-to-toe, a friendly trash-talking bonanza between two players who genuinely appeared to be having a good time on the field.
Today, Favre is more gray on top and Sapp is rounder in the middle. But both players are still difference-makers for their teams, and they’re ready to kick-start their old rivalry when the Green Bay Packers play the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
“It’s going to be good,” Sapp said. “I’ve gone a couple years without seeing the fella, so it’s going to be nice to chase him around a little.”
Favre joked that he might not be quite so excited to see his old sparring partner.
“I’ll tell you after the game,” Favre said.
Favre already is nursing a tender right elbow and left shoulder from a hard hit in a loss at Dallas last week, and he still considers Sapp, who turns 35 later this month, a formidable pass rusher.
“He’s playing great,” Favre said. “I tell you, he’s a little bit bigger, but he’s still as quick. Our guys, our three inside guys, have not played against him before, I don’t think. He’s a heck of a player. And you know this week, he’s going to bring it. But watching him on film, he’s still as quick as ever.”
Sapp said he isn’t quite as brash as he used to be, a combination of his advancing age and playing for a team that isn’t a playoff contender.
“There’s still some good gas in the tank and I’m still able to make the plays,” Sapp said. “But I’m not chasing championships anymore so it’s a little different in that aspect.”
Favre, meanwhile, is having one of the best seasons of his career at age 38.
“Oh my God, I want to know what he’s drinking and eating,” Sapp said.
Asked when his rivalry with Favre really took off, Sapp pointed to a playoff game that followed the 1997 season. Going into that season, then-Buccanneers coach Tony Dungy told his players that to become a contender, they’d first have to chase down the Packers.
“And for us to chase down the Packers, I had to get on top of their quarterback,” Sapp said.
The Packers still won the division that season, but the Buccaneers got another shot at them in a divisional playoff game at Lambeau in January 1998.
After one second-half play, Sapp remembers getting into a minor “shoving and shouting” match with Favre. Sapp was headed back to the sideline when he heard a familiar drawl from the other side of the field: “Hey, Sapp, where you goin’?”
“Who you talkin’ to?,” Sapp shot back.
“And he said, ’You!,”’ Sapp said.
Then-Packers coach Mike Holmgren was yelling at Favre to return to the Packers sideline, but Favre locked eyes with Sapp.
“It wasn’t an adversarial type of situation,” Sapp said. “It was like, ’I like this.’ And I’m like, ’Yeah, I like (it), too. Let’s go.”’
The Packers would go on to win 21-7, but a personal rivalry was born that would play out every time the teams got together over the next few years.
“We were both after the same thing, both after a championship, and our teams being on top of our games,” Sapp said. “It was just one of those deals where it was just a combative thing, but I think a little admiration between us, too.”
Sapp said it’s a shame there aren’t more colorful player rivalries in today’s game.
“It’s just not that way anymore,” Sapp said. “These ’80s babies have taken over the game, and it’s just a different game now. That was something special.”
The NFL moved Tampa Bay to a different division after the 2001 season, but one remaining ugly incident would mar the way Packers fans view Sapp.
In 2002, Sapp nearly ended the career of Packers offensive tackle Chad Clifton with a vicious – and perhaps dirty – hit on Clifton while trying to throw a block after an interception by the Buccaneers. Then-Packers coach Mike Sherman confronted Sapp on the field after the game, turning the event into a national controversy.
Sapp said this week that he never felt like he had to bury the hatchet with Clifton. And Sapp took another swipe at Sherman, who was fired by the Packers in 2005 and recently accepted a job as the head coach at Texas A&M.
“I never had anything against (Clifton) or anything like that, I just made a block, and it turned into something because Mike Sherman made it something,” Sapp said. “Well, Mike ain’t there anymore, so that might be a better situation for everybody involved.”
Sapp said he and Clifton, who rarely speaks to the media, have shaken hands since the incident.
“I’ve never been a dirty player, never been accused of being one except that one time,” Sapp said.
Clifton is still an anchor of the Packers’ line despite nagging injuries. But the team’s young interior offensive linemen haven’t yet played against Sapp, and might be in for some trash talk.
“Yeah, I can’t stop that,” Sapp said. “I’m going to do that as loud as I can for as long as I can because it just gets me going. That’s the way I play the game. I can’t help it.”
Packers center Scott Wells said the Packers have faced several mouthy defensive tackles this season, and doesn’t expect Sunday to be any different.
“Most guys, if they’re good, they talk – because they can,” Wells said. “If they’re not any good, they usually don’t say anything. I’m used to it.”