Receiver Sippio makes rapid rise to Chiefs
By JASON KING
The Kansas City Star
When the phone call finally came — when the Chiefs offered him a chance to make their roster — receiver Bobby Sippio wasn’t even excited.
“I didn’t want to start back at the bottom,” Sippio said.
Especially since he was having so much fun at the top.
And make no mistake, that’s precisely where Sippio was in the world of Arena Football. With sparkly gold teeth, braided, shoulder-length hair and an arm full of tattoos, Sippio’s trash-talking persona drew Chicago Rush fans into the stands.
His talent kept them there.
“I was content with my Arena League success,” said Sippio, who had 53 touchdown receptions last season. “I was about to become one of the highest-paid players in the league. I was making an honest living and providing for my family. That was good enough for me. I didn’t need to be a millionaire.”
Turns out he may become one anyway.
Five weeks after his initial tryout, Sippio will make his NFL debut Sunday when the Chiefs take on the Bears at Soldier Field. Sippio began the season on Kansas City’s practice squad but was activated this week because of a hamstring injury to Eddie Kennison.
Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said Sippio will contribute mainly on special teams. But with a wafer-thin receiving corps that boasts Samie Parker and rookie Dwayne Bowe as its top threats, don’t be surprised if Sippio ends up hauling in a pass or two in the Windy City.
“I don’t think this will be too big for him,” Edwards said. “There’s something about his personality and the way he carries himself. It will be fun to watch him play.”
Sippio, 26, had hoped this opportunity would come earlier in his career.
He quarterbacked his Osceola (Fla.) High School squad to a state title in 1998. Tradition-rich programs such as Alabama and Clemson were interested in his services, but Sippio didn’t qualify academically until May of his senior year. When he did, he chose Division I-AA Western Kentucky, the school he said stuck by his side all along.
Sippio played defensive back for the Hilltoppers. In his second college game, Sippio accounted for all of his team’s points by returning two punts and an interception for touchdowns. Sippio entered the NFL draft following his junior season — “bad advice,” he says now — and wasn’t selected.
“I’ve had times when things didn’t go right,” Sippio said. “I’ve had times when I wondered if I’d make it very far. I just always kept telling myself to work hard.”
Indeed, Sippio hardly sulked when he wasn’t drafted. Instead, he hooked up with the Greensboro Prowlers of the Arena League 2 and won the league’s Iron Man Award in his rookie season in 2002.
That accomplishment helped Sippio land a role with the main Arena League’s Dallas franchise. After two seasons there and a short stint in Tampa, Sippio wound up in Chicago, where he played for coach Mike Hohensee.
“When I first saw him play, I thought he was a man amongst boys,” Hohensee said. “He’s a superstar. You just have to tell him what you want and he’ll make it happen.”
Chicago was 4-8 when Sippio joined the squad midway through the 2006 season. But with Sippio leading the way, the Rush won seven of its final eight games, including the Arena Bowl championship.
Last season Chicago finished 12-4. Sippio caught 53 touchdown passes — eight shy of the league record — despite playing in just 12 games.
The irony of it all is that Hohensee initially didn’t want to sign Sippio because of the brash attitude he noticed when Sippio played for other Arena League teams.
“When you just look at him, he’s such a character,” Hohensee said. “He liked to gab. But we were in a slump and we needed a spark. I let my hair down and took a chance.
“The main thing that made it work was that I treated him like a man. He understood what the perception of him was, so he went out there and rebuilt himself — emotionally, mentally, outwardly. The world is about to see that this kid is very gifted.”
Sippio’s biggest attributes are his hands. He literally caught every pass thrown to him during his tryout with the Chiefs and was known for his highlight-reel plays in the Arena League. If Sippio drops a pass, it’s because he wasn’t focused — not because he has butterfingers.
“The game is about the ball, so I go get it,” Sippio said. “I catch it with my hands — not my body.”
Edwards said Sippio is aided by his 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame.
“Most of the passes in this league are contested,” Edwards said. “You’re in tight quarters when you have to catch the ball. That’s why the quarterback is always looking for a spot, a little window to throw it in. When he throws it there, you have to hold on to it. That’s what this kid can do.”
The knock on Sippio is his speed. Articles written about Sippio during his days at Western Kentucky say he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, but that hardly seems to be the case when you watch him on the Chiefs practice field. Sippio had reconstructive knee surgery as a high school sophomore.
Whatever the case, he’s obviously fast enough now to earn a spot on an NFL roster.
“I had decided that if Arena League was my calling, then I was going to make the most of it,” Sippio said. “I wasn’t playing that way to get into the NFL. I was playing that way because I loved the game.
“I didn’t know what my chance would be like here. I wasn’t a draft pick and people like to talk bad about the Arena League, like it’s not real football. But it worked out and I couldn’t be more thankful. I’ve had a lot of good people supporting me.”
That includes the folks who visit Sippio’s Web site www.sippio.com. And it includes Bowe, who is Sippio’s cousin, and Hohensee, his coach back in Chicago. Sippio purchased tickets for Hohensee and his family to attend Sunday’s game.
“Bobby is an entertainer,” Hohensee said. “Anything he may do at that level won’t surprise me.
“I told our team before last season that the kid should be in the pros. He doesn’t belong in our league.”]