-- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't come here just to play football. They also came here to talk. On the biggest gab day in sports -- Super Bowl media day -- the Buccaneers could trot out two of the kings, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
They mostly avoided stirring up major controversies, but they didn't disappoint. Johnson got the earlier start as Sapp showed up a few minutes late for the Buccaneers' allotted hour with reporters at Qualcomm Stadium, but Sapp made up for it by refusing to leave when the time was up. Neither was apologetic or wary of being among the loudest voices during the build-up to Sunday's meeting with the Oakland Raiders.
"I don't think that I'll have to monitor myself," Johnson said. "What I say usually is the way it is. . . . I'll never guarantee a victory. I'll never talk about another team in a negative light."
Johnson, however, didn't have the kindest of words for Andre Reed, the standout wide receiver on the Buffalo Bills teams that lost four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
"I don't want to be that guy with 1,100 catches and no Super Bowl ring," said Johnson, who is making his first Super Bowl appearance. "It means nothing to me. It's no knock on Andre Reed, but that's not what I want to be. I don't want to go to four Super Bowls and not win and then everybody says, 'He was a good player.' . . . The word great is used too much by people. I don't consider myself great. I consider myself good. I consider Jerry [Rice] great. I consider Michael Irvin extremely great."
That, naturally, steered the conversation toward Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown, who is making the first Super Bowl appearance of his 15-year career.
"I've always been a Tim Brown fan, and I knew you were going to ask me that," Johnson said. "The fact that Timmy has gotten to this point and he's gotten a gazillion catches and a gazillion yards, the one thing at the end of the day -- and I'm pretty sure he'll tell you the same thing -- is that he needs the hardware."
Johnson said he has fulfilled his vow to help the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl within three seasons since the club acquired him in a trade with the New York Jets before the 2000 season. Still, his future in Tampa is not certain. Coach Jon Gruden employs a spread-the-wealth offensive approach instead of focusing on getting the ball regularly to one receiver, and Johnson drew the ire of Gruden and Sapp last offseason for doing his offseason workouts at his home in Southern California instead of in Florida.
"My whole career, I've always been a California guy with an offseason regimen in California," Johnson said. "I don't know if I'm going to change that at all. I think [Gruden] knows that I'm stubborn in that fashion, that he's not going to push that button and try to make me do something that's really not going to be conducive to our relationship. But if he needs me there, I've always been there. . . . I think it's a positive relationship [with Gruden]. Now if I'm blind and I'm slapped in the face at the end of the day, then it's my fault for being blind."
But Johnson said he expects to be with the Buccaneers next season and has no problem with Gruden's offensive approach as long as the team is winning, and he repeatedly compared Gruden to his former coach in New York, Bill Parcells. Johnson said he even rooted against his favorite team from childhood -- the Raiders -- when they faced the New England Patriots a year ago in an AFC semifinal in the game decided by the infamous "tuck rule" play. The Buccaneers needed a coach at the time, and Johnson said he wanted Oakland to make Gruden available.
"That's the only time, I think, I pulled against the Raiders because I needed Gruden to be fired," said Johnson, who indicated he will have about 115 friends and family members in the stadium Sunday. "So I'm in favor of the tuck rule -- last year, not this year."
The Buccaneers gave the Raiders four high draft choices and $8 million for the right to hire Gruden, and the move has paid off for both teams.
"If we're sitting at home 8-8, we paid a king's ransom for doo-doo," Sapp said. "But right now, we didn't pay enough. . . . Malcolm [Glazer, the Buccaneers' owner] would reach in his pocket for $2 million more, I bet."
It has been a trying season at times for Sapp, who had to defend himself after sending Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Chad Clifton to the hospital with a vicious block far from the action on an interception return during a game in November. Packers Coach Mike Sherman confronted Sapp on the field after the game, and sparked a debate about whether Sapp's block was a dirty play. With his first Super Bowl appearance coming against the Raiders and Rice, Sapp this week has to relive the play in 1997 in which he caused a serious knee injury for Rice with a tackle by the wide receiver's face mask.
Sapp said today that he quickly made amends with Rice at the Pro Bowl following the '97 season, and added: "There are only three things, two plays and one incident -- Jerry not getting up and Chad not getting up and Sherman crossing that field. And that's not bad in eight years. . . . I am what I am because of my mother instilling good qualities in me. I'm a good dude."
Sapp, as always, was entertaining as he held court today. He said America is a great place because an 18-year-old such as high school basketball phenom LeBron James can drive a Hummer. He said that wide receiver Cris Carter is the best talker that he's ever come across on a football field, and revealed that his favorite in-game dig is to tell an opponent: "They're going to cut you after they watch this film."
But mostly, he just wanted to enjoy the moment of this once-downtrodden franchise being under football's brightest spotlight, telling a story about savoring Sunday's NFC title game triumph at Philadelphia with longtime teammates Derrick Brooks and John Lynch in the visitors' locker room at Veterans Stadium.
"We laughed and joked for the longest time, and then I looked up and it was just me, Lynch and Brooks in the shower," Sapp said. "I guess it was meant to be. All three of us just got a big, giddy smile, and we exorcised all our demons that we couldn't get it done and we were just a defense that was going to be paper champions forever."