Tim Brown calls out Bill Callahan

Updated: January 23, 2013, 10:06 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

According to receiver Tim Brown, Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers thrashed the Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII because Oakland was "sabotaged" by Bill Callahan, the team's head coach at the time, who changed the game plan at the last minute.

Brown's comments to SiriusXM NFL Radio on Saturday were earlier reported by ProFootballTalk.com, which was provided audio of his remarks.

Brown said that when the Raiders got the game plan on the Monday before the Super Bowl, it was a run-heavy attack taking advantage of Oakland's size advantage on the offensive line. However, Brown said Callahan scrapped the plan on Friday to the shock of the team.

"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, 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."

Callahan released a statement Tuesday night saying he "categorically and unequivocally" denied the allegations.

"Any suggestion that I would undermine the integrity of the sport that I love and dedicated my life to, or dishonor the commitment I made to our players, coaches and fans, is flat-out wrong," Callahan said in the statement. "I think it would be in the best interests of all, including the game America loves, that these allegations be retracted immediately."

Gruden had been the coach of the Raiders from 1998-2001, and Callahan was his offensive coordinator. When Gruden moved on to Tampa for the 2002 season, Callahan was made head coach, and the two wound up in the Super Bowl against each other.

Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, the Raiders' other starting receiver in the Super Bowl and now an ESPN analyst, backed Brown on his claims in comments to ESPN's "NFL Live" on Tuesday. He said the players found it "very unusual" to change everything at the last minute.

Rice said the Raiders' game plan did change on the Friday before the Super Bowl and the team was surprised by that, "because you worked all week long on running the football." On Friday, Callahan put in a new plan that had the team throwing the ball more than 60 times.

And in a way, maybe because he (Callahan) didn't like the Raiders, he was willing to sabotage just a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one

-- Jerry Rice, on ESPN's "NFL Live"

"Why would you wait to the last second to change the game plan?" Rice said. 

He echoed Brown's theory that Callahan might have been willing to let Gruden win the game.

"I was very surprised that he waited 'til the last second, and I think a lot of the players they were surprised also, so in a way maybe because he didn't like the Raiders he decided, 'Hey look, maybe we should sabotage just a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one,'" Rice said.

Brown tried to backtrack some from the word "sabotage" Tuesday in an interview with "The Ben and Skin Show" on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM but still implied the facts of the situation leave many questions about Callahan's loyalty at the time to the Raiders.

"I don't think he would have sabotaged the Super Bowl but ... this is the problem we have, because of his relationship with Gruden, because of his disdain for the Raider organization; that's what makes people get to that conclusion," Brown said Tuesday.

Brown said "sabotage" was the word that was thrown around the Raiders' locker room. 

This isn't the first time Brown has made these accusations against Callahan. The receiver also made these claims four years ago on the morning of the Super Bowl.

"I've been talking about this for 10 years," Brown said in his interview with ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM.

Brown stressed that he was expressing his opinion and had no proof that Callahan intentionally doomed his own team.

"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," Brown said. "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," he said.

Brown said center Barret Robbins, who disappeared from the team in the days before the game and did not play, begged Callahan not to change the game plan.

"Barret Robbins begged coach Callahan, 'Do not do this to me. I don't have time to make my calls, to get my calls ready. You can't do this to me on Friday. We haven't practiced full speed, we can't get this done,'" Brown said.

Brown wouldn't correlate Robbins' absence from the team with Callahan's decision, however.

"I'm not saying one had anything to do with the other. All I'm saying is those are the facts of what happened Super Bowl week. So our ire wasn't towards Barret Robbins, it was towards Bill Callahan. Because we feel as if he wouldn't have did what he did, then Barret wouldn't have done what he did," Brown said.

Brown said "everybody knew Barret was unstable anyway" but the team couldn't fathom Callahan would change plans at the last minute.

"So to put him in that situation -- not that he was putting him in that situation -- but for that decision to be made without consulting the players the Friday before the Super Bowl? I played 27 years of football. The coaches never changed the game plan the Friday before the game.

"I'm not trying to point fingers at anybody here, all I'm saying is those are the facts of what happened. So people look at Barret and they say all these things, but every player in that locker room will tell you, 'You'd better talk to Bill Callahan.' Because if not for Coach Callahan, I don't think we're in that situation," he said.

Rice confirmed that Robbins was surprised by the change in the game plan and "he said you can't do that to us now, and maybe that was one of the reasons why he ended up going over to Mexico and being a no-show for the game."

Brown said in his interview with ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM that he made his comments, not to disparage Callahan, but to defend Robbins.

Jon Ritchie, the starting fullback for the Raiders in that game and a former ESPN NFL analyst told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen in a text that he agrees with Brown's comments.

"I've said it for years. What we practiced heavily during the week is not what we ran in that game. Could have been due to Barrett's absence. It was never explained to me. I believe I said it on the record every year we talked about the Super Bowl (when he was with ESPN for four years). I always thought it would get sensational like this," Ritchie wrote in the text.

However, another former Raiders offensive player who didn't want to be named, disagreed with Brown.

"No, he (Tim) isn't right. While there was always dysfunction, that didn't happen. If anything Bill wanted to kick Jon's a--. Nobody would do that. Brutal. We got out-played and out-coached. Period," the former player wrote in the text to ESPN.

Running back Zack Crockett, who also was on that Raiders team and is now a scout for the team, said he thought Callahan changed the game plan only because of Robbins' disappearance.

"He may have known something we didn't know," Crockett told ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" of Brown.

Crockett said "everybody was in shock" when Robbins left the team because he made all the offensive calls. He agrees with Brown that "with the offensive line we had, it was going to be a downhill game" if the original game plan was used.

Bill Romanowski, a linebacker on that Raiders team, blasted Brown for his comments.

"What is he trying to do? He absolutely couldn't be further from the truth. 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. I'm blown away that something like that would come out of an intelligent man's mouth," he said in an interview Tuesday with 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.

Former Raiders running back Charlie Garner, however, didn't dismiss Brown's remarks.

"There may be something to what Mr. Brown has been saying. I really don't know the validity of which (Callahan) despised the Raiders but I also know that he didn't want to be there, too," he said in an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic. "What we were doing in the game we never practiced."

Oakland rushed the ball only 11 times in the Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers, and two of those attempts were by quarterback Rich Gannon. Gannon attempted 44 passes in the loss.

Gannon on Tuesday defended Callahan.

"In terms of Bill Callahan, let me just say this: He was a good football coach, he was a good man," Gannon said Tuesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "We all wanted to win."

[+] EnlargeTim Brown
AP Photo/Al GolubFormer Raiders receiver Tim Brown said Bill Callahan sabotaged Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII by changing the game plan at the last minute.

Gannon said he believes the fact that the Raiders didn't change the verbiage on offensive calls that Gruden installed for the team big factor in Oakland's loss.

"So much of our verbiage and terminology was a carryover from what Jon Gruden had installed in terms of our run checks, and so we were calling certain plays and guys like Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks were calling out the runs. So it kind of took us out of our no-huddle plan at the line of scrimmage," Gannon said in the interview.

Robbins was diagnosed as bipolar after that incident but regained his spot in the starting lineup the next season after undergoing treatment at an alcohol rehabilitation center. However, the Raiders released Robbins in 2004 after he tested positive for steroids.

In addition to stays in alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs, Robbins has had several run-ins with law enforcement since the 2004 season.

Former Raiders offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy told USA Today on Tuesday that Brown was incorrectly remembering the facts.

"When you use a word as strong as [sabotage], people think you purposely tried to go out there and lose the game, and I know that not to be true," Kennedy told USA Today. "If you didn't like an organization, why would you take them all the way to the Super Bowl?

"Everyone knows the gratification, the rewards that come with winning a Super Bowl. As a coach, you can really write your own ticket elsewhere. So even if you didn't like them, why would you go so far as to lose it?"

Brown's comments about Callahan came just days after he questioned the Bears' hiring of coach Marc Trestman, who was the Raiders' offensive coordinator when Brown was on the team.

"I don't want to say it was a joke, but I just never saw Trestman as being a head coach," Brown said last week on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 in Chicago.

Brown had posted nine straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the Raiders entering 2002, the year Trestman took over as the team's offensive coordinator. In that 2002 season, Rice emerged as the team's leading receiver and Brown finished with 930 yards.

"The year he took over as offensive coordinator is also the year my reign with the Raiders ended because he made Jerry the No. 1 receiver instead of myself," Brown said. "The year before I made the Pro Bowl and caught [91 passes for 1,165 yards] ... and the year afterwards, the year he takes over, I think I came like 50 yards from catching 1,000 yards in 10 or 11 straight seasons.

"Hey, look, I'm not a selfish player, but come on, if I put the work in, make this happen for me. We had some interesting words about that part of it."

Brown is one of 15 modern-era Hall of Fame finalists for the class of 2013. The Hall's 46-member selection committee will meet in New Orleans on Feb. 2 to make its selections.

Callahan is currently the Cowboys' offensive line coach.

ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen and ESPN's Jeremy Schaap contributed to this report.

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