Tampa Bay will be hard-pressed to match what former Buccaneers greats Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks became a part of on the opening night of the NFL Draft in 1995.
“Good morning, 26 years ago today we joined forces,” Sapp wrote to Brooks, about going in the first round of the 1995 draft together to the Bucs.
“I was greeted with this special message from my guy, Warren Sapp,” Brooks wrote on Twitter. “I could not be more grateful to share our NFL journey together all the way to Canton. Bust #280 and #281.”
“Good morning 26 years ago today we Joined Forces”
— Derrick Brooks (@DBrooks55) April 23, 2021
Tampa hit the jackpot on the opening night of the draft in 1995, taking Sapp out of Miami with the 12th pick and Brooks at pick 28 from Florida State. Only three other players from that whole class made the Hall of Fame: Terrell Davis, Ty Law, and Curtis Martin.
Brooks and Sapp transformed a franchise mired in 12-straight losing seasons but not overnight. The Bucs endured two more losing seasons before becoming a playoff regular from 1997 to 2002, culminating in the franchise’s first Super Bowl win.
Tampa had a top-ten defense in both yards and points allowed from 1996 to 2002, per Pro Football Reference, with Sapp at defensive tackle and Brooks at linebacker playing major roles in that success. Brooks tallied 1,713 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and 25 interceptions in his career. Sapp amassed 578 tackles, 96.5 sacks, and four interceptions with the Bucs and then-Oakland Raiders from 2004 to 2007.
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How Sapp Fell to Tampa
Tampa originally had the seventh pick in the first round of the 1995 draft but a couple of trades put the Bucs at No. 12 and No. 28 in the first round.
The Bucs traded down to No. 12 in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles per Buccaneers.com, which could have easily taken the Bucs out of the Sapp sweepstakes. Sapp was “considered a no-brainer, top-five draft pick” per Bleacher Report’s Dan Van Wie. Late Bucs head coach Sam Wyche, who coached the team at the time, said in his 2010 Pewter Report column that Sapp always fell in the top five of their mock drafts, too soon for the Bucs to land him.
As the early first round picks went off the board, Wyche said the Bucs staff “started to realize that we still might have a shot at drafting Sapp.” Wyche noted that “rumors of drug use” by Sapp “messing around” hurt the All-American’s draft stock.
“While we still had to see if he fell to us, we made the decision as a group that if Warren Sapp were still there when we picked at number 12 overall he would be a Buccaneer,” Wyche recalled. “Even at that point we all looked long and hard at each other to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, and we hadn’t, so we drafted Warren Sapp. We all liked him. I mean everybody — myself, Rich (McKay), Jerry Angelo — everybody. We really believed it was a great pick.”
Wyche credited the Bucs scouts for getting to know NFL prospects such as Sapp from Florida colleges well enough to help make the call.
Bucs Claimed Brooks After Trade
Tampa later traded two second-round picks, one from the Eagles in the earlier trade, to acquire the 28th pick in the first round per Buccaneers.com. Wyche called that “a much easier decision to make” in pursuit of Brooks per Pewter Report.
“We didn’t think he was going to be there, though, so that’s why we jumped at the chance to select him,” Wyche said. “The only question on the report was Derrick Brooks’ size — was he going to be big enough to hold up under the grind of an NFL season?”
“He certainly proved that, and in a lot of ways he set a trend in terms of the NFL using smaller and faster linebackers, but there were a few guys before him that played many years in the league while undersized,” Wyche added. “The thing about Derrick was all of the other measurables outweighed the size issue. He was quicker and faster than the other guys, and when he hit you it felt like he was a 6-foot-6 player. We knew so much about his high character and high work ethic that we didn’t blink on Brooks.”
Brooks, Sapp Encouraged 2020 Bucs Team Before Super Bowl LV
Brooks and Sapp both urged the 2020 Bucs to victory before Super Bowl LV in a video with messages from members of the 2002 Bucs, who won Super Bowl XXXVII.
“No one in this room — players, coaches, support staff — is satisfied with just getting there. It’s all about bringing home that hardware, and I know we can do it,” Brooks said.
Sapp told the 2020 Bucs “to go and handle our business. Mark it for history.”
Tampa brought home hardware at home last season, beating the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 and becoming the first team ever to play and win a Super Bowl in its home stadium.