The Day #99 Made The Earth Stand Still


Somewhere you just know there are still San Francisco 49ers fans that swear that Warren Sapp meant to injure Jerry Rice that opening day back in 1997.  That day there were rumblings that the 3rd year defensive tackle now with a bust in Canton was a dirty, low down, ruthless player that would do anything to win and Warren Sapp wouldn’t have it any other way.

The last time the Buccaneers opened the season with a home game against the 49ers was August 31st, 1997.  That was the day that 2nd year head coach Tony Dungy and his merry krewe of men had their coming out party against first year 49er head coach Steve Mariucci and his squad.  The Buccaneers were introducing the new pewter color pants and redesigned pirate flag logo while San Francisco rolled with the same uniforms they had worn forever.  The 49ers were coming off of a 12-4 campaign in 1996.  The Buccaneers were looking to build on a 6-10 record the previous season.  A season that saw them start out at 0-5, only to finish winning 6 of the last 11 games.

On the very first drive, an 11 yard sack of Steve Young would include a glancing blow from the knee of Hardy Nickerson to put Young a little dizzy.  Coupled with the heat of an August Florida afternoon and Young would look wobbly for the remainder of the game.  This was Steve Young’s 3rd concussion in his last 11 games.  No stranger to Tampa Bay having been initially drafted by the Buccaneers in the 1984 supplemental draft after playing in the USFL for the Los Angeles Express. Young would be traded to the 49ers to back up Joe Montana after the Buccaneers drafted Vinny Testaverde in 1987. He was deemed a bust by Tampa Bay, but ended up being another man’s treasure.

The knee injury to Jerry Rice would occur late in the 2nd quarter.  Rice had just received a hand off from Garrison Hearst on an end around when Warren Sapp, who was on a mission, went to tackle him. With a combination of Sapp reaching, Rice running, and players falling, it caused Rice, the HOF, receiver to tear the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

The scoring for the Buccaneers that day consisted of two Michael Husted field goals and a two yard TD pass from Trent Dilfer to Dave Moore.  The 49ers with two field goals by Gary Anderson would lose to Tampa Bay 13-6.  Before the end of the game, the football universe would know that the Tampa Bay defense was a force to be reckoned with.  Adding 119 all purpose yards from 2nd year running back Mike Alstott and the Buccaneers had found the recipe for winning they had been searching for.

After the game Sapp would be quoted saying “I didn’t mean to hurt either one of those guys.  I was just being aggressive and chasing the ball carrier.”  Relentless, magnificent, or Sapp-zilla, call it what you will.  Doing whatever it took to win, even if some called it dirty?  #99 wouldn’t have it any other way.