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Steelers Sapp, Flowers trade barbs as prelude to Monday night game

Thursday, December 19, 2002

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It doesn't get much better than this.

 
 

Steelers Report
12/19/02

   
 

Talk about paper champions. Lee Flowers and Warren Sapp are champions of newspapers, radio, TV, internet and the Dead Sea Scrolls. They threw roundhouse oral punches across 875 miles 20 minutes apart yesterday. You could hear their teeth grind while they spit insults at each other.

The only thing missing was Vince McMahon and a squared circle.

This was not Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden trading homage, each calling the other's team the best in the NFL. Sapp, Tampa Bay's All-Pro defensive tackle, obviously seethed over derisive comments made by Flowers, the Steelers' mouthy safety, after the Bucs were upset by them last year, 17-10. The clip of Flowers calling the Bucs "paper champions" played more often than A Wonderful Life.

First, on a conference call, Sapp called Flowers a nasty name not suited for a family newspaper, but which can be found on the Steelers' Web site. Then, the man from Orlando and the University of Miami said this:

"Listen, man, Lee Flowers is a guy from Georgia. Florida boys walk around with chips on their shoulders all the time. We talk more stuff than anybody. He doesn't even have any credentials to talk stuff, so I am wondering where this is coming from.

"You would never know the man unless you get in front of the television, and they put his name under his face."

That was all Flowers needed to crank it up.

"That's your problem right there," Flowers shot back in the Steelers' locker room. "I'm not from Georgia, I'm from South Carolina. You need to do your homework if you're going to talk about somebody. I went to school in Georgia. I haven't checked the last time somebody got a degree from Miami anyway."

And another thing . . .

"Here's the same guy who was talking about [Michael] Strahan's [sack] record," Flowers said. "Here's the same guy who for eight years now saying he was going to break the sack record. Here's the same guy who's sitting with six sacks. I damn near got six sacks myself! That's not saying anything."

Flowers has three sacks and Sapp 7 1/2, but this isn't about getting the facts straight, this isn't about where Flowers comes from, this is pure World Football Entertainment, the kind of thing that doesn't happen much anymore. The NFL Players Association brothers make nice now, they party together at Strip District nightclubs, golf in each other's charity events, hold hands and pray together after games.

Maybe Flowers and Sapp do that, too, but if their hands were clasped yesterday they were around each other's throat.

The first sentence in Sapp's bio in Tampa Bay's media guide states flatly that he is "The most feared and intimidating figure in the NFL."

Said Flowers, "I think a lot of people look at Sapp and are scared to talk back to him. Shoot, for what? I'm a grown man; you don't write my check. That's neither here nor there. On the field, we have a job to do, and he has a job to do. Like I said before, they take a lot of pride over there. I'm sure that comment I said worked them a little bit. For whatever reason, if they feel like my comment determines their whole season, then they have a lot more problems in that locker room than they think they did."

Sapp, who is 6 feet 2, 303 pounds, has played in the past five Pro Bowls. He has 72 career sacks, or two more than Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon. He has been overshadowed this season by teammate Simeon Rice, the Bucs' right defensive end in his second season since joining them as a free agent from the Cardinals. Rice has 14 1/2 sacks.

But Sapp remains the heart and soul and mouth of the Buccaneers' defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL. The Steelers, who ranked No. 1 last year, are No. 3 today.

"As far as a player, I would love to play with him," Flowers said. "He's one of the best defensive linemen in the league right now. But as far as his attitude is concerned, I care less about that. That's what pumps him up in their locker room, that's their guy, that's what gets them going. He's been there for eight years, and everybody rallies behind him. You can't disrespect him for that. As far as I'm concerned, we have a pretty good team in this locker room also and we're going to prove it on Monday."

Oh, the game? The Steelers (8-5-1) play at Tampa Bay (11-3) Monday. The winner will clinch a division championship, either the AFC North or the NFC South.

"There is a box of hats and shirts on their sideline," Sapp said. "There is a box of hats and shirts on our sideline. Who wants to open their box?"

Someone can celebrate the holidays a little early.

"It's a Monday night game," Flowers said. "It's national television, we have Al Michaels and John Madden commentating. What else can you ask for before Christmas?

"Monday Night is Monday Night. There's no need to try to talk trash during the week, that game is what it is -- a primetime game for both teams, and there's a lot laying on the line for both teams. There's no need for neither locker room to try to hype this game up."

Right.


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.

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