Why Warren Sapp is Dead Wrong About Michael Strahan
To put it as nicely as possible, Warren Sapp very rarely experiences a shortage of things to say. Anyone familiar with the Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle and current NFL Network analyst knows that there is nobody more suited for stirring the pot than good ol' Warren. With less than a month until the 2013 Hall of Fame class is enshrined in Canton, Sapp decided to speak up on behalf of a former teammate, Simeon Rice, to tout his merits as a future Hall of Famer. Since this is Warren Sapp we're talking about, he also felt the need to take some shots at a rival — and that rival is Michael Strahan.
The Tampa Tribune ran the original comments that Sapp made about Strahan last month where, to paraphrase, Sapp was quoted as saying Strahan only enjoyed the success he did because he lined up against the opposing team's worst offensive tackle every week. According to Sapp, "Simeon was a better rusher than Michael Strahan any day of the week and twice on Sunday." This basically means that Rice was twice the rusher Strahan was because, as you know, football is mainly played on Sundays. To say that this statement is hyperbole is putting it lightly.
While we know that Sapp is passionate about giving an old teammate his due and the respect that he rightfully deserves (after all, Rice was a tremendous pass rusher), was the shot at Strahan necessary? Sapp is already a Hall of Famer, and Strahan was a finalist this year and didn't quite make the cut … so why the bitterness? Could it be Strahan's cushy new gig hosting a morning talk show with Kelly Ripa? Possibly. Whatever the reason, Sapp's comments were largely uncalled for, and they even managed to rile up Tiki Barber to the point where he decided to step in and defend Strahan last week, which might have been the first time Barber has said anything even remotely nice about a former teammate since he retired.
The bottom line is that Sapp's arguments are pretty paper-thin all the way through. Strahan lined up against the opposing team's weakest tackles every Sunday? Hardly. Sapp even name drops poor former Philadelphia Eagles' lineman and current U.S. congressman Jon Runyan. Runyan was hardly an All-Pro offensive lineman, but he wasn't exactly a scrub either. Runyan was a Pro Bowler in 2002, and according to this 2008 ESPN poll, getting blocked by him was one of the scariest things in the NFL at the time.
The truth is Rice and Strahan were a lot more similar than most people realize, especially when you look at their stats. Strahan finished with 141.5 sacks over a 216-game career that saw him break the all-time single-season sack record in 2001 (thanks, Brett Favre!) and win a Super Bowl in 2007. In addition, he was a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. Rice finished his career with 122 sacks over a shorter career of only 174 games. Rice tallied double-digit sack totals in eight of the 12 seasons he played, and was a three-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro defensive end.
Rice was undoubtedly one of the best and most feared pass rushers in the league during his prime, and he flew under the radar for the most part, never really becoming the household name that Strahan was. Is that fair? Probably not, but it can be attributed more to Strahan's unique personality and his penchant for being in the spotlight than his ability on the football field. On the field, Rice and Strahan were virtually equals. Rice certainly deserves more recognition than he gets, and he may also even see his name enshrined in Canton one day, but Sapp is going about it in the wrong way. It's one thing to vouch for your former teammate and tout his accomplishments, but it's another thing to do it while needlessly bashing another player.
Like all good feuds in 2013 tend to do, the war of words eventually led to a back-and-forth on Twitter. Fortunately, Strahan managed to handle the situation with class and respect, which comes as no surprise. Hopefully Sapp will follow his lead and gracefully retreat instead of escalating things any further.
I must admit, I hadn't realized that Rice finished his career with 122 sacks. I always thought of him as a solid but not premier pass rusher in the NFL. Maybe it's because so much was expected of him coming out of Illinois (I remember covering the 1996 draft, and there were plenty of people who compared Rice to Lawrence Taylor). But he did had eight seasons of double-digit sacks in a 10-year span, while Strahan only had six in his whole career. Strahan had two otherworldly seasons (2001, 2003); without those, Sapp's opinion might not seem to outrageous.