Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp will not be fined by the NFL for a wicked hit, and Green Bay Coach Mike Sherman will not be disciplined by the league after an ugly confrontation with Sapp after the Buccaneers' 21-7 victory over the Packers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. But if the teams meet again in the playoffs -- a very distinct possibility -- it surely will provide an intriguing, made-for-television matchup.
Sherman was incensed with Sapp for what he considered to be a cheap-shot block on Packers tackle Chad Clifton on a third-quarter interception return by Brian Kelly that helped turn the game in the Bucs' favor. Sherman approached Sapp afterward and told him "what you did was wrong."
Sapp responded with an obscenity-laced tirade that included, "You're so tough, put a jersey on. Win some more games." A Packers security guard stepped between the men.
Clifton remained hospitalized yesterday in Tampa with hip and pelvis injuries that Sherman said likely will end his season and could jeopardize his career. He is expected to stay there at least until Friday, then return to Green Bay for further tests.
The league announced yesterday afternoon that after reviewing the play, neither man would be fined for one of the uglier coach-player confrontations seen in recent memory. Sherman said yesterday he regretted it only because it detracted from the Bucs playing "a heckuva football game. I regret the fact that a big issue has been made about it. Jon Gruden won a big game yesterday, and I hate to think this has taken anything away from it."
Sherman continued to say he confronted Sapp mostly because he thought the Bucs' defender was celebrating far too much with a player laid out on the field from a hit Sherman described as a cheap shot. "I thought the reaction afterward [by Sapp] was what I responded more to, which I considered to be inappropriate" Sherman said. "That bothered me.
"I was concerned about a player's health. Chad wasn't there to represent himself. I walked over and stated my opinion and I was going to leave it at that. . . . I don't regret being honest and truthful about how I felt. . . . I stated my point of view. He stated his very eloquently. We leave it at that."
Gruden spent his Monday news conference defending Sapp's hit and behavior and questioning Sherman's decision to seek out Sapp, who had no comment today.
"There is nothing at all flagrant about the play," Gruden said. "It was perfectly legal. No way was he celebrating because Clifton was hurt. He was celebrating because of the interception and the magnificence of the play. Warren Sapp did nothing illegal or malicious. He made an aggressive play. When a ball is intercepted, we're trying to score. Warren Sapp made no error whatsoever and the celebration had nothing to do with a player getting injured."
Gruden also said he had no intention of calling Sherman to talk about the incident and said it made no sense for the Green Bay coach to talk to his player at the end of a heated game between two intense rivals.
"If you're going to approach [Sapp] after the game about the ethics in which he plays, to me, it's not very logical," Gruden said. "Warren Sapp played within the rules and there was a confrontation after the game not initiated by him. I don't think you approach a player after a game. There were some unethical plays on their side of the ball, too. There were some flagrant after-the-whistle 15-yard penalties that weren't exactly ethical.
"I know I'm not going up to those players after the game and ask them to please not do that."
Still, with the Bucs a league-best 9-2 entering Sunday's game at New Orleans and the Packers 8-3 with a five-game lead in the NFC North, both teams, barring stunning collapses, should be in the postseason in five weeks. That will set up what could be a rematch in either the second round or NFC title game.