Have you heard? It’s the week before the Super Bowl. Which means next week is the week of the Super Bowl. Collectively the media (yes, us too) is building the pre-game chatter until it reaches a crescendo Monday, and that screaming note will be sustained for nearly seven days. Mostly, the ever-churning SB hype machine creates discussion that’s either intelligent (how will the Ravens stop the read-option?), or annoying (HARBOWL). But there’s also an unfortunate side effect.
The spotlight is wide, and it gives figures of all kinds a chance to creep out from wherever they were hiding. Tim Brown was a great receiver, and he could soon be a Hall of Fame receiver. But he’s faded from the public’s view since his retirement in 2004, as most former players do. He may want to be different, though, and he may want to be different and known now.
That’s admittedly wild speculation, but it’s the only explanation I can reach for to explain his accusation that former Raiders head coach Bill Callahan intentionally lost the 2003 Super Bowl to Tampa, a game that ended in a 48-21 thrashing. Jerry Rice, on the other hand, is much more difficult to explain.
Saturday, Brown said this on NFL Radio:
“We all called it sabotage … because Callahan and Gruden were good friends,” Brown said. “And Callahan had a big problem with the Raiders, you know, hated the Raiders. You know, 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. 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.”
The only reason this isn’t immediately baseless and absurd is because of the game plan details Brown can provide. We don’t have that information, and only a select few people on this planet were in those meetings and in that locker room. What are those people saying? They’re mostly disagreeing with Brown, with Rich Gannon — the quarterback who was tasked with executing the game plan which first was a running attack and then later an attempted passing assault — offering a very basic explanation.
“I think that 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. We fell behind and at that point we started throwing the ball too much.”
We get it: the Super Bowl is a pretty big deal. But the exact scenario that Gannon describes happens multiple times every week in every NFL season. A well-intention game plan is stymied quickly, and then an in-game adjustment has to be made quickly. Often the difference between the winning and losing head coaches in any Super Bowl lies in who can make the better adjustments.
That’s such a mundanely simple principle that I feel shame for spending even one sentence explaining it, which is the same feeling that should be washing over Brown for wasting our time. Other former Raiders on that team which lost to Gruden’s Buccaneers have also disagreed, with linebacker Bill Romanowski calling Brown’s assertion “complete crap”. Meanwhile, running back Zack Crockett said the game plan was tweaked due to the sudden disappearance of Barrett Robbins, who famously vanished the night before the Super Bowl. Lincoln Kennedy has also voiced his disagreement.
Then there’s Charlie Garner, who vaguely, sort of agreed with Brown, saying that Callahan didn’t just make your standard in-game adjustment. Instead, his abrupt switch came two days earlier.
“We came out with another game plan and it just was not what we practiced. . . . We as an organization and as a team had been through a lot of adversity so we were accustomed to it. Had we just stuck to the original game plan, I believe that we would have been successful.”
Then today in an interview with ESPN’s Trey Wingo, Jerry Rice — the Jerry Rice, the hall of famer, and the 13-time Pro Bowler — supported Brown. Yes, here comes the boom.
Lower it, Jerry.
“For some reason — and I don’t know why — Bill Callahan did not like me. In a way, maybe because he didn’t like the Raiders, he decided, ‘Hey look, maybe we should sabotage this a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one.’”
Rice added that Callahan in part contributed to Robbins’ actions. After such an abrupt change in the game plan the bi-polar offensive lineman couldn’t handle it, and he bailed on the team.
Even though Rice and Brown are well-respected former players, and even though it’s conceivable that Callahan didn’t exactly enjoy his time in Oakland, this all seems absurd. And that feeling grows when you actually go back and look at the boxscore, and the Raiders’ offensive tendencies that season.
The Raiders led the league in passing yards per game that year (279.7), and they did that while finishing second in pass attempts (619). Then during the Super Bowl Gannon attempted 44 passes, which didn’t exactly blow away his per game average (38.7).
Rice claimed that when Callahan changed the game plan, he wanted to throw 60 times. Of course, that didn’t come close to happening. Instead, for the second straight week Gannon attempted over 40 passes, and the week prior to that in the AFC Championship passing was a strategy that worked with ease (a 41-24 win over Tennessee).
Marc Trestman was also the offensive coordinator of that team. That’s the same Marc Trestman who’s regarded as a quarterback whisperer, and he also spent time as a QB position coach in various places before moving up north to win two Grey Cups. He just recently became the Bears’ new head coach, where Jay Cutler is his pet project.
Yeah, he probably liked to call passing plays, and watch passing plays, and think about passing plays during every waking hour. This was a Raiders offense and team that won by passing, with a head coach and an offensive coordinator who called passing plays all year, and continued to call passing plays during the most important game of the season, and of their lives at that time.
Beyond the numbers and beyond even the accusations, a coach wanting to lose the Super Bowl is unfathomable. Over the next 12 days during the aforementioned hypefest, you’ll hear poetic clichés about a chance that won’t come again, and the need to capitalize on said chance. So a coach would rip a shot at history away from himself for…what? Gaining some sense of satisfaction by denying the Raiders a championship, while also denying himself a championship? What Callahan would lose in that scenario far outweighs anything he’s gaining. There’s no fulfillment in stripping yourself of an honor few people even have an opportunity to achieve.
Brown has achieved his goal, though. We’re talking about him.