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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dungy: Sapp lived for big moments


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The thing I will always remember about Warren Sapp is how he showed up in the big games. He lived for those moments. It reminded me of Lynn Swann with the Steelers. When we played a big game, I knew he was guaranteed to make a highlight-film catch. It was the same thing with Warren. If we were on "Monday Night Football" or in a playoff game, you knew it would be memorable.

Warren helped take the Bucs from the orange uniforms to the Super Bowl. When he arrived, nobody wanted to play here. He helped make it a place that could attract the big-time free agents. I can't imagine the Bucs without him. I was very fortunate to be able to coach him for six years.

In 1996, I was named head coach of the Bucs. It was the perfect storm. Warren had the God-given talent, but now he would be put in the perfect system to highlight that talent. He had the right guy coaching him on the defensive line in Rod Marinelli. I played with Joe Greene in the peak of his career and I saw the same thing in Warren. He was a game-changer. You could see it during practice - watching him work, running the bags, doing the drill work. You could also see how smart he was. That's the key ingredient in all great players. They not only understand how to do something, they know why you are doing it.

Of course, with Warren you're going to have the off-field bumps in the road and the controversies. I knew that was part of it. I always told Warren he could have been the mayor of Tampa, but that's not his nature. His concern was his on-field performance. However, in 1998, when he moved in across the street from me, I thought it was a good sign. He knew I would be keeping an eye on him, but we had a good enough relationship where he could live across the street from me and be comfortable.

In some ways, we're very different. In other ways, in terms of being focused on winning and doing your job well, I could completely relate to him. He always wanted to be coached. He was always on board and that's all you can ask as a coach. He wasn't afraid to question what we were doing but once it was explained, he bought in completely.

I was always fascinated by how much he knew about what was going on in the world - not just football. I'd stop by his locker and he was more likely to talk about another sport or what was going on in the city. We would talk about foreign policy or world hunger. He had this amazing ability to grasp concepts and take in information. But he really knew his business. The game was his profession. He wanted to know everything about it. He was on top of every detail.

Being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the culmination of his football journey. I know he'll have pride in that - not only for himself and his family, but also for the Tampa Bay Bucs. It's a symbol of how he helped transform the franchise.

I remember the first conversation we had when I got to the Bucs. I told Warren that with his talent and our system, he should be a multi-time Pro Bowler. I don't remember if I specifically mentioned "Hall of Famer," but I thought he had a chance. I told him for us to become a championship team, he needed to be like Joe Greene, with that type of career and legacy.

And he did it! I'm going to be very proud when I see him enshrined as one of the best ever.

Tony Dungy was Warren Sapp's head coach with the Buccaneers from 1996 to 2001. Dungy, a Tampa resident who won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts in 2007, is a football analyst with NBC Sports.

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