Favre, Sapp Headline Main Event

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When they line up against one another, they produce more banter than talk radio.

And before this season, when their teams were members of the NFC Central, Packers quarterback Brett Favre and Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp had two games a year in which to exchange pleasantries. But not anymore.

Born of the NFL's offseason realignment came the NFC North and the NFC South, and the Packers and Bucs were sent their separate ways. And so, too, Favre and Sapp.

But they'll meet again this weekend at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, for what will be the only time this season, unless their paths cross again in the playoffs.

"It's strange that I can't go to Lambeau this year," Sapp said. "That's part of the ritual, you go to the house that Vince built and Titletown and everything. You get to go down and see all the crazy people that live right around the stadium.

"It's a beautiful place to go every year. It's a shame that I won't be able to do that."

There probably aren't too many players who regret being unable to face Favre at Lambeau Field, but Sapp isn't your typical NFL athlete. He's 303 pounds of power, speed and interminable chatter. Arguably the best defensive lineman in the game, he's averaged better than 9 sacks a season over his NFL career.

He has 7.5 sacks through 10 games this year, his eighth season.

And if all of that doesn't make facing Tampa Bay intimidating enough, Sapp is just the ringleader for what's been the stingiest defense in the league this season, allowing just under 12 points per game (11.9 avg).

"I almost say I hate to play against him," Favre said of Sapp. "It seems like every year we play these guys, they get better and better. I never thought after last year, and the years that I've played them, that I could say that each year this is the best defense I've faced. But by far this is the best they've ever been, and that's scary."

"It all starts with 99 (Sapp). He's a great player, but he's just one piece of the puzzle. He's a good piece, but they still have some tremendous players behind him."

Among those behind Sapp -- or down the line from him -- is seventh-year end Simeon Rice, who has benefited from opponents' preoccupation with Sapp to tally 9.5 sacks this season, second-best in the NFC.

Yet as stifling as the Tampa Bay defense is as a unit, the majority of NFL fans won't tune in Sunday to watch 'the rest' of the Bucs' talented defense, just like they won't flip on the TV to watch 'the rest' of the Packers' offense.

They'll tune in to see the stars. They'll tune in to watch Favre and Sapp, to see them go facemask to facemask, to see them exchange big plays like heavyweight fighters trade punishing jabs.

Favre vs. Sapp, 'The Commotion Near The Ocean.'

New to the intragame rivalry, even the Bucs' first-year head coach Jon Gruden is excited about his ringside seat.

"Any time you get a chance to see two of the game's great competitors go after each other in a football game, it makes things very exciting to me," Gruden said. "I'm looking forward to it, just like Brett and everyone else is."

Always a spirited competitor, Favre has seemed to generate an extra amount of adrenaline for his previous meetings with Sapp. But this week Favre at least tried to sell the notion that, at age 33, his days of trash-talking with the five-time Pro Bowler are behind him.

That's hard to believe however, considering that on several occasions last weekend Favre was close enough to the facemask of Minnesota's Chris Hovan to identify the defensive tackle's mouthwash.

"I just hope to win the football game, that's all I hope," Favre said. "I'm too old to be jawing with these guys. I'm trying to conserve energy. I used to do all that, and tried it last week and it didn't work out."

There were some who even questioned whether Favre's antics with Hovan took the quarterback out of his game, maybe not much, but enough at least to contribute to his three interceptions.

But after 15 meetings with Favre over his career, Sapp knows better. And no matter how much he talks Sunday, he doesn't expect to get into the head of the three-time NFL MVP.

"It's just a house of horrors for him," he said of Favre's history at the Metrodome. "He wasn't playing well. He was making some mistakes and getting a little frustrated, but you can't expect that. He has that one game every year. Too bad it ain't my place where he has that every year."

Not that Raymond James Stadium has been friendly to Favre. The Packers are winless in four trips to the venue.

This weekend, they'll try to turn their luck around, as both teams fight for sole possession of the NFC's best record.

With Favre and Sapp leading the charge, verbal sparring is almost assured of taking place. It'll look good on TV, but it won't be the ground on which the game is won and lost.

"I don't know how you win a verbal battle anyway," Sapp said. "They don't keep score of how many good one-liners you have."

When these two competitors get together, you kind of wish they would.

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