When Wyche Sapped the draft

11-29-01, 4:25 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Draft Day 1995.

The funny thing is, Sam Wyche doesn't remember seeing the bit on ESPN. The now famous scene where profusely sweating agent Drew Rosenhaus is sitting next to his equally profusely sweating and very large client as he tries to convince the NFL from his cell phone that Warren Sapp isn't the devil incarnate while the first round slips away.

At the time, Wyche was the head coach and director of football operations for Tampa Bay and closeted in what would turn out to be his last draft in the NFL. Wyche directed the Buccaneers brain trust for a walk outside as they mulled the 12th pick. Stunned that Sapp, the hugely talented defensive tackle from the University of Miami, was still on the board, Wyche confronted his scouts one last time.

Sapp, the object of intense drug rumors, had been a sure-fire top 5 pick. Wyche, along with general manager Rich McKay and personnel chief Jerry Angelo, listened to the scouts in the heat of the Tampa sun.

"Being in the state of Florida, our scouts knew the kids at Miami, Florida and Florida State like the back of their hands ever since they were freshmen," Wyche reminisced Tuesday. "The question, of course, was if he would hold up off the field. I don't think these guys knew for sure if he was an absolute angel, but they thought he was a good guy who would be a dominant player and not be a problem that way. We went with them and it turned out pretty well for both sides."

They weren't done. With the other first-round pick, the Bucs took another Florida guy they knew well with the 28th pick in Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks. Sapp and Brooks have each been to the Pro Bowl four times and form the core of Tampa Bay's playoff decorated defense that comes to Cincinnati Sunday to play the Bengals in the Sam Wyche Bowl.

Wyche coached both teams from 1984-95. But to show you how removed he is, he and wife Jane opted for CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond," and "King of Queens," Monday night instead of the Bucs' win over the Rams.

"We had a lot of those players and of course, Tony Dungy is a good defensive mind," Wyche said. "Those guys play hard and Tony does a nice job with the

scheme and they've had a super run."

Too many years have gone by for any might-have-beens for Wyche. That '95 Tampa Bay team won seven games for the first time since 1981, but Wyche was fired anyway after his fourth season. The owner was dying, the club was to be sold, Wyche couldn't turn around quarterback Vinny Testaverde, the franchise quarterback Wyche picked in 1994 (Trent Dilfer) had been a disaster and the writing was on the wall.

"There was going to be a housecleaning," Wyche said. "We thought the team was going to get better in a hurry. Dilfer wasn't ready. He held out that first year and it killed him. I don't know why players make the same mistakes as the players before them, but I've never seen a player who held out not get hurt in some way. Maybe he got an extra $10,000 out of it."

The Bucs picked up another three Pro Bowls in Wyche's second draft when they picked strong safety John Lynch in the third round of 1993. Wyche remembers many phone calls before and during the draft with Lynch and his father, trying to get a gauge if they were going to decide on pro baseball.

But Wyche has always felt the key to making the Tampa Bay defense a contender was signing linebacker Hardy Nickerson as a free-agent in 1993 from Pittsburgh after they couldn't swing a trade for him. Nickerson is now with Jacksonville, but Wyche thinks he gave the Bucs a playoff attitude.

"He was a great player and great leader for us," Wyche said. "He had a big impact on those young players that we drafted."

By the way, Wyche had surgery on his vocal cords earlier this month in Boston and seems to be doing well enough to at least have some preliminary thoughts about making a run for the TV booth again.

"I have to wait a little longer to see if the volume will get turned up," Wyche said. "It's a different voice than I've had. It's lower and deeper it feels good. I think it's going to get louder in time."

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