Ensuring that not all football discussion in the Bay Area is focused on the 49ers, a former Raiders star has come forward with a startling claim.
Former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown has gone public with his belief that his former coach, Bill Callahan, sabotaged the silver and black during Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003. Brown believes that Callahan changed the team's game plan just days before the big game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in order to hinder his team's chances due to his hatred for the franchise.
The Raiders lost to the Bucs, 48-21.
On Saturday, Brown joined SiriusXM NFL Radio shared his belief that Callahan threw the biggest game of his coaching career by scrapping a game plan relying on running the ball just days ahead of the matchup with the Bucs and former Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who had departed Oakland for Tampa a season earlier.
“We all called it sabotage, because Callahan and Gruden were good friends. And Callahan had a big problem with the Raiders, you know, hated the Raiders. You know, [he] only came because Gruden made him come. Literally walked off the field on us a couple of times during the season when he first got there, the first couple years," Brown told SiriusXM NFL Radio, via SFGate.com. "So really he had become someone who was part of the staff but we just didn’t pay him any attention. Gruden leaves, he becomes the head coach. It’s hard to say that the guy sabotaged the Super Bowl. You know, can you really say that? That can be my opinion, but I can’t say for a fact that that’s what his plan was, to sabotage the Super Bowl. He hated the Raiders so much that he would sabotage the Super Bowl so his friend can win the Super Bowl. That’s hard to say, because you can’t prove it. But the facts are what they are, that less than 36 hours before the game we changed our game plan. And we go into that game absolutely knowing that we have no shot. That the only shot we had if Tampa Bay didn’t show up."
Not all players on that Raiders squad agreed with Brown's theory, notably quarterback Rich Gannon. The NFL MVP during the regular season, Gannon indicated that the team only abandoned the run after it proved ineffective against the stout Tampa defense.
"I don't know that the game plan really changed,” former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon told SiriusXM, via SFGate.com. "I think what happened was that we came out and tried to run the football early in that game, we didn’t have a lot of success."
All told, Gannon was 24 for 44 in the big game with 272 yards passing two touchdowns and a staggering five interceptions. Meanwhile, the team tallied only 11 rushing attempts for 19 yards (per Pro-Football-Reference). With the Bucs leading 20-3 by halftime, the run would have been likely abandoned in the second half, sabotage or not.
That the Raiders would put the Super Bowl in Gannon's hands isn't surprising in itself as he had carried the load in the team's previous playoff wins that season, throwing the ball 41 times in the AFC Championship Game and 30 times in the Divisional Round.
Writing about the matchup of the Raiders' offense and Buccaneers' defense just a few days before the game, CNN/SI anticipated Gannon would air it out:
The Raiders fooled around with the run in the first half of the Divisional game against the Jets two weeks ago, but with a Super Bowl berth on the line they came out firing from the opening kickoff against the Titans in the AFC Championship Game. QB Rich Gannon started hot and never looked back, finishing with 286 yards and three TDs.
But what the Raiders do best is throw the football and they learned a valuable lesson in playing the Jets. If they get away from what they do best -- try to balance their attack -- they will keep their opponent in the game. The Bucs have been vulnerable in the past to power running teams with big offensive lines, but Oakland should not and will not change the way it plays offense.
Whether or not Callahan ever attempted to install a run-heavy game plan only to change it at the final moment, former Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski doesn't believe sabotage occurred and suggested Brown could have an ulterior motive for his outrageous claim.
"I’m absolutely flabbergasted. Is he trying to be relevant for the Super Bowl? What is he trying to do? He absolutely couldn’t be further from the truth," Romanowski told Tony Bruno and Jon Marks of 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia on Tuesday, via ProFootballTalk. "So you’re saying that a man has a chance to cement himself in history with winning a Super Bowl and he wants to hand it over to his buddy? Give me a break, OK? It couldn’t be further from the truth. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And I’ll tell you what, I’m blown away that something like that would come out of an intelligent man’s mouth.”
Despite these differences of opinion, Brown suggested on Twitter that teammates would support him.
There was at least one member of the 2002 Raiders, who happens to be a Hall of Famer as well as on staff at ESPN, who agreed that Callahan's coaching decisions were suspect. Jerry Rice joined ESPN's NFL Live on Tuesday to weigh in on Brown's claim.
"I just felt it was very unusual," said Rice, alluding to the same change in the game plan that Brown had noted. "I think Tim Brown, he was the guy in Oakland. And if he was suspicious of something like that. I really have to believe Tim Brown. This guy was everything with the Oakland Raiders. I just found it very unusual because you want to go into that situation knowing exactly what you want to do, how you want to approach that defense, the opponent, and we changed everything that Friday."
Yet another factor in this flashback drama is the bizarre events involving Raiders Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins, who didn't play in the Super Bowl after missing team functions on the Saturday before the game. Could it have been that Callahan's late change in strategy, which would certainly affect a center, sent Robbins over the edge and into Tijuana? Or was it the departure of Robbins that catalyzed the change?
That's how former Raiders fullback Zack Crockett remembered it. Speaking with Mike & Mike In The Morning on Tuesday, Crockett said the game plan changed after Robbins went AWOL.
"Unless Tim knew something we didn't know, we were to believe that we were going to run the ball, but when Barrett disappeared, you know, it had to be changed," Crockett told Mike and Mike. "You have to adjust to a different center. You got a different guy that you're going to put in, that really hasn't played all year. That's a change. You go from an All-Pro center to a long snapper."
As the accusations were being discussed on PTI on Tuesday afternoon, Mike Wilbon suggested yet another possible cause for a late change to the strategy that wouldn't have had anything to do with sabotage.
"Here's another scenario, suppose [former Raiders owner] Al Davis, who has been known to walk into a coach's office every now and then ... like oh, three three times a week ... said, 'You know what? We're not going to do this. We're going bombs away like Daryle Lamonica.'"
As all of these former Raiders weighed in on his integrity, Callahan was down in Mobile, Ala. at the Senior Bowl. The offensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys, Callahan may be taking over play calling duties for the team next season, according to Jerry Jones.
In the aftermath of Brown's accusation, Callahan turned down at least one interview request on Tuesday.
Without Callahan immediately coming forward to tell his side of the story, speculation ran rampant.