TAMPA, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — For Warren Sapp, it will be a night to remember — one the embattled Miami Dolphins and winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t likely to forget, either.
The 2013 Hall of Fame inductee will have his No. 99 jersey retired and become the newest member of the Bucs’ Ring of honor at halftime of Monday night’s nationally televised game. The matchup showcases a pair of struggling teams eager to play rather than answer more questions about their problems.
The Dolphins (4-4) are the talk of the NFL, with the league investigating accusations that second-year pro Jonathan Martin left the team because he was being harassed or bullied by fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito, and perhaps by other players.
The Bucs (0-8) have their share of distractions, what with that zero in the win column.
From the awkward benching and release of quarterback Josh Freeman to an outbreak of MRSA infections in the locker room to ongoing speculation about coach Greg Schiano’s future, it’s been a trying year for a team that’s lost 13 of 14 games dating to 2012.
Sapp, Tampa Bay’s career sacks leader and one of the key players on the franchise’s only Super Bowl champion, has watched a disappointing season unfold from afar in his job as an analyst for the NFL Network.
“It’s everything but a Ring of Honor night. It’s Schiano, is he getting fired? It’s Richie Incognito,” said Sapp, who joins Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon, John McKay, Jimmie Giles and Paul Gruber in having his name displayed atop Raymond James Stadium. He also will receive his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.
Sapp was a four-time All-Pro and selected to the Pro Bowl seven times in nine years with the Bucs, who lost 10 or more games for 11 consecutive seasons before picking him in the first round of the 1995 draft.
The one-time University of Miami star teamed with Derrick Brooks and John Lynch to form the nucleus of a dominant defense that helped transform Tampa Bay from a laughingstock into NFL champions. He was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1999, and three years later earned a Super Bowl ring. Tampa Bay hasn’t won a playoff game since.
The 2013 Bucs have sputtered offensively and struggled to close out opponents defensively. They’ve held fourth-quarter leads in four games, losing each in the final 89 seconds of regulation or overtime.
“I never thought it would get to this. I know we had 11 straight double-digit loss seasons at one time … but this feels wrong — really, really wrong,” Sapp said. “It’s hard to watch. Most teams have an identity, here’s who we’re trying to get the ball to, you figure out over the course of the game. … I can’t understand what we’re doing.”
Schiano is 7-17 since leaving Rutgers to take over a team that lost the final 10 games of 2011. The Bucs are 0-7 in games decided by three or fewer points under the second-year coach.
“It’s hard to look at because it is my team until the day I die,” said Sapp, who finished his career with the Oakland Raiders.
“‘I fully embrace the pewter, the red, the icicle. I am Tampa. I can’t hide it,” he added, alluding to the team’s current team colors as well as the hideous creamsicle orange jerseys the Bucs wore before the franchise’s turnaround. “It was a place where careers came to die. And me and Brooks and Lynch turned it into a destination.”
The Dolphins are playing for the first time in 11 days. They beat Cincinnati on a safety in overtime to stop a four-game skid about the same time the bullying scandal began brewing.
Martin’s teammates are weary of answering questions about the situation and eager to finally get back on the field for a game.
“I feel like it has been forever since we played,” said defensive end Cameron Wake, whose end-zone sack provided the winning points against the Bengals.
Martin, a tackle, is in counseling for emotional issues. Incognito, a guard, has been suspended by the Dolphins.
Without them, the Dolphins have a new left side of the offensive line.
“It’s time for everyone to step up and regroup and play a great game,” guard Nate Garner said.
“We see it as a distraction that we’re not going to let distract us,” tackle Tyson Clabo said.
Miami coach Joe Philbin said despite all that’s swirling around them, players have prepared well for only the 10th regular-season meeting between franchises situated less than 300 miles apart. The Dolphins lead the series 5-4.
“I really believe in the guys we have in our locker room. I know they are good men,” Philbin said. “I believe this team is going to stick together and play well.”
Players echoed that sentiment.
“Right now we’re just worried about the guys in this locker room and the guys who are going to be out there Monday to help us win,” tackle Will Yeatman said.
“This football team has come out here every day and we haven’t changed anything we’ve done,” center Mike Pouncey said. “We’ve come out, we work the same way and we’ve had a great week of practice and … we’re ready to play this game.”
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