The voice is the same, a low growl that can turn blunt and pointed over the length of a conversation, punctuated by short bursts of laughter. It is the same sound you heard in the good times, and now that bad times have hit, it has not changed.
Warren Sapp still sounds like Warren Sapp.
Despite his financial problems, despite the headlines about bankruptcy filing, despite all the jokes about 240 pairs of sneakers and a large painting of a naked woman in his bedroom, Sapp still sounded positive Thursday as he attempted to explain his troubles in detail for the first time in a phone call to the Tampa Bay Times.
"Do you think I wanted to declare bankruptcy?'' Sapp said. "Do you think if there was any other way possible I would have done it? It was either this or go to jail. Those were my choices.''
In the days since Sapp, 39, filed for bankruptcy with $6.7 million worth of debt, he has once again become a polarizing figure in Tampa Bay. Sapp was a great player as the Bucs turned from one of the worst franchises in the NFL to one of the best, but a lot of people seem to remember a lot of stories about how rude he could be in public.
I wrote a column about Sapp in Tuesday's paper, and the email still hasn't eased. To be honest, there doesn't appear to be a great deal of sympathy for Sapp. Imagine the same financial troubles falling on another Buc, such as Derrick Brooks or Mike Alstott or Warrick Dunn, and more fans might try to feel their pain. Not so much with Sapp.
The trouble started, he said, with the wrong construction deal at the wrong time. By the time it went bad, most of Sapp's money was gone.
The idea was to build low-income housing in Fort Pierce in 2005. Sapp said the original agreement was the houses would not be built until a buyer had been approved for a mortgage, but one of his partners approved the construction of three houses so there would be something to market. But 2005 was not a good time for real estate, and the houses went unsold.
"It didn't go well,'' said Sapp, who has a condo in Hollywood, Fla. "At the end of the day, we owed them a million dollars, and the two numb- - - - put their heads in the sand. They went after me.''
Because of the debt, Sapp's earnings from the NFL Network — 100 percent, he said — were garnished for 11 months. That meant his bills went unpaid, causing the debt spiral that led to his Chapter 7 filing.
"You tell me what to do,'' Sapp said. "Do you keep working without a check? If you don't pay your child support, you go to jail. This wasn't something I wanted to do. This was something I had to do.''
Sapp said his financial situation has left him a little embarrassed but not distraught. After all, the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle estimates he made a gross of "about $60 million'' during his playing days.
"When you live like I do,'' he said, "you know where you are and what you have to do. I'm not at war with me. I promise you this. I will never go to jail.''
After Sapp's legal documents were released, there has been a lot of laughter and a lot of comments about his list of assets. Skeptics have wondered about his missing Super Bowl ring he earned with the Bucs in 2002.
"Is it so unbelievable that I misplaced my ring?'' said Sapp, a first-round pick out of Miami in 1995. "I wore it for 365 days, and we had a 7-9 season (in Tampa Bay in 2003) and I went to Oakland and I took it off. You never saw me with it anywhere. The only time I brought it out was when the NFL Network wanted us to wear it.
"We were at the Super Bowl, and I thought I handed it to someone, and he said I didn't. I checked my luggage to see if it was in a side pocket. I checked my suit to see if I put it somewhere. What was I going to do? Yell and scream because I lost a ring? That ring didn't make me a champion. Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith. That crew made me a champion.
"In my life, has anyone called me a liar? Why would I start now? Someone told me something that John Adams supposedly said. Facts are stubborn. I like facts.''
Sapp said he finds it funny that most reports of his assets mention the nude woman in the painting of his bedroom wall.
"I'm not an interior decorator,'' Sapp said. "Some designer put that on the wall, and I liked it. It's in my bedroom. By the time a woman gets there, she might be naked, too.''
He laughs, then the conversation turns to the lion-skin rug at the foot of his bed.
"It isn't as if I shot him,'' Sapp said, laughing. "I didn't go and get him. I just like the rug. I have a zebra skin rug, too, but I shot that one.''
As for the 240 pairs of Nike Airs?
"I didn't know I had that many,'' Sapp said. "I've said for years, if you wear size 15, I have some shoes to donate. I've been with Team Nike for a long time. I didn't pay for most of those.''
For the record, now that his NFL career is over, Sapp said he has moved for a reduction of child support payments. He said he "doesn't know'' if he will be retained by the NFL Network as an analyst. As far as Bucs' memorabilia, he said his ex-wife Jamiko has the jersey he wore in Super Bowl XXXVII and from one of his Pro Bowls.
"They can fight her for them,'' he said, "but I don't think she'll give them up. They can have it all, man. I put myself in this position.''
Despite the debt, despite the criticism, Sapp said he is positive.
"This is just another situation I have to get myself out of,'' he said. "I grew up without cable and without air conditioning. Things aren't that bad yet.
"This isn't as tough a situation as when I came out of college, and there were reports of seven positive drug tests, and I was a 21-year-old man. I was coming to the worst franchise in pro football, and Sam Wyche was running a five-ring circus, and my teammates were calling me 'super-rook' because they didn't want me here. You stick a diamond in a pile of s- - - and it's still a diamond.
"If there is air in my lungs, I'll find a way.''
Do you believe him? Do you doubt him? Are you disappointed in him? Amused by his situation?
Throughout Sapp's career, it has always been the same.
Even now, broke but unbroken, he seems to do the same.