If memories of being pummeled by Jon Gruden in Super Bowl XXXVII weren’t painful enough for former Raiders coach Bill Callahan, there is now this: former players implying that he might’ve sabotaged his own team in the 48-21 loss to Tampa Bay.
Tim Brown, the Raiders nine-time Pro Bowl selection and third-time nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said Monday on Sirius XM Radio he believed Callahan “sabotaged” the Super Bowl by altering the game plan 36 hours before kickoff.
“We all called it sabotage, because Callahan and Gruden was good friends, and Callahan had a big problem with the Raiders, hated the Raiders, and only came because Gruden made him come,” Brown said.
Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, speaking by phone with ESPN on Tuesday, sided with Brown, adding, “I was very surprised he waited until the last second and a lot of the players, they were surprised also. So, in a way, maybe because he didn’t like the Raiders he decided that, ‘Hey, look, maybe we should sabotage this a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win one.’”
Brown also said Callahan’s game-plan switch left center Barret Robbins so disturbed it may have been the catalyst to his infamous trip to Mexico o Friday, returning in a haze of alcohol and mental illness the night before the game.
Callahan said in a statement Tuesday that the allegations were “ludicrous and defamatory.”
While I fully understand a competitive professional football player’s disappointment when a game’s outcome doesn’t go his team’s way, I am shocked, saddened and outraged by Tim Brown’s allegations and Jerry Rice’s support of those allegations made through various media outlets over the last 24 hours,” Callahan said “To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegations.”
Other players on the 2002 team disputed Brown in various radio interviews, including quarterback Rich Gannon, linebacker Bill Romanowski, offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy and fullback Zach Crockett, who is on the Raiders scouting staff.
“I like Tim Brown. Great guy, great teammate,” Romanowski told ESPN. “But he is delusional to think that Bill Callahan would give up the biggest opportunity of his life … to be a Super Bowl winning coach. I cannot even comprehend why something like that would come out of his mouth.”
Said Gannon on his Sirius XM radio show: “He was a good football coach, I think he’s a good man. We had too much invested in trying to become world champions. We all wanted to win. I’m sure Bill Callahan was one of those as well.”
The genesis of planning to turn a team that threw a club record 618 times in 2002 into a running team for the Super Bowl was a 45-0 win over Tampa Bay in 1999. In that game, Napoleon Kaufman gained 122 yards and Tyrone Wheatley had 111 against a smaller Tampa Bay front.
While Brown said Robbins “begged” Callahan not to change the game plan, Kennedy, also a starting member of the offensive line, told 95.7 The Game he knew nothing about Robbins having any such issues.
Crockett told ESPN the game plan changed after Robbins went AWOL because backup center Adam Treu was not as formidable as a power blocker.
In a text to ESPN, former Raiders fullback Jon Ritchie said, “What we practiced during the week is not what we ran in that game. It could have been due to Barret’s absence.”
Gannon and Kennedy recalled having to abandon the running game partially because of game circumstance. The Raiders gained 18 yards on 10 first-half rushes and trailed 20-3 at halftime.
Gannon said there was talk of “being physical and running the football” going into the game but also said, “I don’t know that the game plan really changed … I think we came out, tried to run the football early and didn’t have a lot of success.”
Kennedy said he remembered Callahan saying as the Bucs took command, “We’re going to have to pass to get back into this.”
As for Brown’s version of things, Gannon said, “We often sit in rooms 53 of us, and the coach addresses the team, and not everybody gets the same message. Not everybody hears it the same way.”
Gannon, who threw five interceptions and had three returned for touchdowns, feels the blame falls on everyone who took part for the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
“If you got on that plane Monday in Oakland and flew to San Diego to participate in the Super Bowl, whether you’re the owner, the head coach, the quarterback or the guy that passed out the tickets, you’re responsible for what took place down there.”