Just Give Them the Darn Microphone


There isn’t a team in the NFL that can boast two more quotable players than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson. It’s getting them to talk to each other that’s the problem.

Johnson has run through the streets of Los Angeles, alternately charmed and battled the New York media, taken the hard hits in the NFL secondaries -- only to find an inescapable challenge right in his own locker room.

Sapp had been in Tampa for five years, helping the Buccaneers’ defense lock down opponents, when Johnson arrived from the New York Jets in 2000. At first Sapp welcomed the addition of a big strong receiver to a team that lacked offense and thought the Jets were crazy to trade Johnson. But it’s hard to keep two such outspoken players happy forever. They disagreed over what was right for the team and who had the right to articulate what was right.


Sapp had always been the authoritative voice of the Buccaneers, especially with mild-mannered former coach Tony Dungy at the helm. Now Johnson had his mug on magazine covers and, with his Jet ties, in the New York tabloids.

“Sometimes, it’s almost like a shark in the water,” Johnson said. “He gets a little intimidated when other sharks come in his territory. I think, for him, he’s always been the guy in Tampa. You have another guy who comes and sucks a little bit of the light, a little bit of the energy. It may have taken him a minute to say, ‘You know what? It’s OK. It’s OK to share a little bit. It’s OK to be Robin. I don’t always have to be Batman.’

“For me, I don’t really give a ... one way or another. All I’m doing is chasing the ring.”

There were reports that the two were feuding this season. Johnson didn’t concur -- but he didn’t exactly say they were cozy. Put it this way: When Johnson’s house was featured on “MTV Cribs,” there weren’t any pictures of Sapp on the walls.

“We’ve always been ... cordial in our relationship,” Johnson said, taking a while to pick the right word.

“Because, I guess, in terms of me, I’m just a person that’s honest with myself. You’re not always as honest with yourself as a kid as you are as an adult. I’ve grown tremendously in the last 15 years of my life. Some people stay the same.

“But for him, I think his goal is to get a championship. My goal is to get a championship. We feel that we can get it together. I lean on him. I expect a lot out of him and I demand a lot of him on the defensive side, as he demands and respects a lot of me from the offensive standpoint.


“That’s OK. Warren’s going to be Warren. He thrives on the spotlight; he loves it. I’ve lived it my entire life. It’s nothing new to me. I’m from L.A., I’ve moved to New York, I’ve played in New York. Now I’m here. Whatever the case is.”

It’s pointless to try to match Sapp quote-for-quote.

When asked who was the top talker on the team, offensive guard Lomas Brown quickly answered: “Sapp. Sapp. No doubt.”

Can Johnson give him a run?

“A little bit,” Brown said. “But I think Sapp’s got him.”

At media day, when the head coach and key players sit down in kissing booth-style boxes, three people had bleachers set up around their podium: Coach Jon Gruden, quarterback Brad Johnson and Sapp. Gruden, the former Oakland Raider coach who is the story line this week, had the most media. Sapp came next, with twice as many cameras as Johnson.

“I’m really not concerned about [the attention],” Sapp said. “I guess it’s you guys that put me in the spotlight. It’s one of those things where it’s an opportunity to say some lovely things at times, say some crazy things at times. I’m almost in awe just sitting here.”

Johnson appeared a little weary, still wiped out from the team’s NFC championship victory in Philadelphia on Sunday.

“We really celebrated,” Johnson said. “You can hear it in my voice.”

Sapp seemed fresh, ready to go. He wore sunglasses, even though it was a little overcast in the morning. While Johnson didn’t have the energy to contest a bombastic Don King impersonator for a certain Fox Sports Net show, Sapp had a good line: “That’s why it’s not the Best Damn Sports Show.”


When it comes to quotes, Sapp is a sprinter and Johnson is a distance runner. Keyshawn can carry on and on -- he had some answers that went more than three minutes. But he’s consistently solid -- and available, win or lose, which is one reason he won over the New York newspaper beat guys.

Johnson strolled down memory lane to talk about his days growing up on Vermont and 37th, near the Coliseum.

“I can walk through the Coliseum blindfolded,” Johnson said. “I can show you how to pick the locks.”

He wondered how the city can’t come up with money to refurbish the old stadium and lure the NFL back.

“How are you going to be in L.A. without a football team?” he said.

Sapp had the snappy lines and metaphors.

On his impressions of San Diego on a chilly morning: “It’s cold. I read somewhere this is supposed to be the most livable climate in the world? Somebody lied to me. It’s cold out here.”

On what it took to improve the Buccaneers’ ugly history: “That’s some big Mary Kay-ing. We have the biggest Mary Kay you can find.”


Don’t wait around for Sapp and Johnson to make up. Their personalities are too strong. If they beat Oakland in the Super Bowl on Sunday, they’ll let you hear all about it. In stereo.


J.A. Adande can be reached at: