No media has ever cared to report this, and no one really even knows. Maybe no one even cares.
In the year 2000, I asked my team that I loved to let me go. I was the Franchise Player, a leader on the team, and one of the highest-paid players in the NFL, but I was unhappy. Heartbroken is a better word probably.
My defensive line coach, since I was a high school kid at Berkeley High and then when I attended Cal-Berkeley’s summer football camp, was Rod Marinelli. He quickly became like a father to me. He then coached me in college at Cal-Berkeley and followed me into the NFL as my defensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Essentially, my entire football career since high school, Rod Marinelli has been my defensive line coach.
Towards the end of the 2000 season, a random chance encounter while walking down a hallway at One Buc Place football facility turned into a traumatic turning point in my football life.
“Hey, Coach,” I said, passing by.
“Hey, Chidi,” said Coach Marinelli walking by.
“Listen, I want you to stay out of Warren’s way when you’re pass rushing!” Marinelli blurted out.
Startled & confused and a bit insulted, I stammered back, “Um, okay Coach, but what exactly does that mean? What do you want me to do exactly?”
“Just stay out of his way!” snapped Coach Marinelli, and then we parted ways.
Just like that, this chance encounter walking down the hall with Coach has been very odd and unsettling for many reasons. It also broke my heart for many reasons. In all of my years being coached by Marinelli, he had never yelled at me like that! EVER! On the field? YES, by all means. But off the field? NO! Never, ever. He had been that patient father-like figure; who knew how to yell at you in order to get the most out of you on the field and simply talked to you with gentle guiding hands off of the field. But, not on this day, and I admit it hurt me.
It hurt me because not only was I being assaulted verbally by the man I considered a father figure, but it also hurt my pride as a football player, as a pass rusher, and a leader. A warrior sustained a serious blow that day. “Stay out of Warren’s way?” What was I supposed to do? Just stand there when the other team is passing the ball? So, I’m considered to be useless as a pass rusher now?
Up to this point, I had one of the few double-digit QB sack years in Tampa Bay Buccaneer history. If QB pressures and QB hits were a valued statistic back in my day, I was certainly at the top of the NFL in that category. But now, I was being yelled at by my father figure in some random hallway encounter to stay out of the way. “Out of Warren Sapp’s way!”
Not knowing what else to do, I began to simply run upfield during passing plays and pretty much stand there. At times, I would run upfield, and instead of standing there, I’d juke a bit back and forth to peek around the offensive tackle to see what the QB was doing and what Sapp was doing. Maybe there’d be a chance to peel off and make a play if Sapp chased him to me or something.
After weeks of employing this type of pass rush in the games, who of all people rudely confronted me in the locker room in front of everyone? Warren Sapp. Warren came to my locker and began to mock me. He began to shimmy and juke, imitating my pass rushing of late. Then in front of everyone, Warren blurted out loud, “You SUCK!”
Ultimately, this would be the beginning of the locker room fistfight, which unfolded weeks after this incident. It became an unraveling as more and more public insults in front of my teammates boiled over to the point where I came to blows with Warren. I was literally trying to take his head off with my fists.
At the end of the season, I had enough. I was now a single father of two baby boys under the age of 2-years old. I was in the midst of an ugly, heated custody battle with their mother, who decided to file during the middle of my football season. I had been providing a big house in a plush, gated community with a security guard, a Range Rover, and money for anything she needed. I did all of this without a judge having to force me to do it: And now, I came to work every day, being attacked by my coach Marinelli and being insulted publicly, humiliated, and ostracized by my teammate and partner on the battlefield, Warren Sapp.
I asked my agent Eugene Parker to tell the Buccaneers to release me or trade me. GM Rich McKay didn’t want to do it, but I insisted. Rich asked my agent to request that I sit down and speak with Rod Marinelli, at least before we do something so rash. I refused because I knew that if I sat with Coach, he would convince me to stay. He knew me all too well, considering he coached me since high school, and there was no way I’d be able to face him and walk away from the Bucs. Walking away was hard enough. So I walked away, never having spoken to any coaches or teammates again. No coaches or teammates had ever reached out to me. I put in eight long years as Tampa Bay Buccaneer fighting for the team and the Tampa community, only for it to end alone and forgotten.
But hey! That’s show business!!!
For more on this story and how it all ended, you’ll have to buy my book, coming out soon. But maybe Scott Bradford can convince me to release more excerpts to you guys; before the book comes out.