Sapp and Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman were involved in a heated and obscenity-laced confrontation just minutes after the Pewter Pirates downed the Packers at Raymond James Stadium, 21-7. But Sherman's displeasure with Sapp actually started during the game.
Sherman not only took issue with a block Sapp had had placed on Packers offensive lineman Chad Clifton during Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly's interception return in the third quarter, but he was reportedly even more upset by Sapp's celebration on the sideline while Clifton lay motionless on the field. While Green Bay physicians tended to the injured player, Sapp was seen celebrating on the sideline.
Sapp's hit on Clifton, which took place near the end of Kelly's 31-yard interception return, occurred a good distance away from the play, but it has been deemed legal by the NFL and Sapp was not penalized on the play. Clifton was eventually taken off of the field on a stretcher and taken to a local Tampa hospital for further evaluation. It was later determined that Clifton suffered a hip injury as a result of the block.
While Gruden said he wanted to move forward and forget the incident ever occurred, he said the criticism Sapp has drawn because of the hit was unwarranted.
"Well, we're moving on," said Gruden. "We're not going to talk about this very much longer after this press conference. We're moving on. I'd just like to say that there was nothing at all flagrant about the foul. It's perfectly legal. Warren Sapp in no way was celebrating when Clifton was hurt. He was celebrating because of the interception and the magnitude of the play. I don't believe that was right, at all, in my opinion. I'm disappointed about what occurred after the football game. Again, we're ready to move on, but I felt that was inappropriate."
While he believes Sherman was enraged at Sapp for both the hit and the post-play celebration, Gruden said Sapp had absolutely no intent to harm. In fact, Tampa Bay's head coach said No. 99 was simply doing his job.
"It sounds to me like both," Gruden said of Sherman being upset about the hit and the sideline celebration that followed. "I believe he'll answer those questions at the press conference in Green Bay today. Again, we're moving on, but Warren Sapp did nothing illegal or malicious. He played an aggressive play. The ball was intercepted and we were trying to score and no matter how that play is interpreted by a coach on another team of a fan on another team, Warren Sapp made no error whatsoever and the celebration had nothing to do with a guy being injured. I can guarantee you that."
Gruden said he didn't think Sapp should be fined for the incident, espcecially since he believed Green Bay's head coach "initiated" it. And the NFL came out later Monday and announced that Sapp would not be fined.
"I don't expect any fine whatsoever to Warren Sapp and there better be a thorough investigation if there is," Gruden said. "I'm going to defend our player here. He played one unbelievable game with his teammates last night. This is a guy that has a very, very fast heartbeat during football games and if you're going to approach him after the game and question in which he plays, to me that's no logical. That's my opinion and I'm not going on Hard Copy or one of those deals.
"It's over and I don't want to blow this out of proportion. Hell, it's on the cover of USA Today for crying out loud. The big thing yesterday was we won the football game. I don't like the fact that Warren Sapp is thrown into a negative light in terms of how he played in that football game. He played with a great work ethic and he played within the rules and there was a confrontation after the game that was not initiated by him. That's all I can say."
Not only did Gruden declare Sapp's actions "ethical", but he also suggested that Sherman was out of line for approaching Sapp in such a manner after the game, especially since Tampa Bay's head coach suggested Green Bay had some unethical plays and players of their own.
"I don't believe you approach a player after the game," said Gruden. "There was some unethical plays on the other side of the ball now, too. There was some flagrant, after-the-whistle, 15-yard penalties that weren't exactly ethical. Hell, I'm not going up to these players after the game and asking them to please not do that. I just don't want to make anymore of this than I've already said."
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