ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan denied allegations made by two of his former players that he "sabotaged" the Raiders in their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay 10 years ago, saying that he tried to win the game and that suggestions to the contrary were "ludicrous and defamatory."
Former Raiders receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice both said in recent interviews that they believe Callahan undermined his own team in the Super Bowl in 2003 because of his close friendship with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden by altering the game plan two days before Oakland's 48-21 loss.
"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 Tuesday in a statement. "To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegations."
Callahan called on the allegations against him to be taken back.
"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," he said. "I think it would be in the best interests of all, including the game America loves, that these allegations be retracted immediately."
The hubbub over a game played a decade ago began Saturday, when Brown said on Sirius XM NFL Radio that he believed Callahan altered the game plan because of his close ties to Gruden, the former Raiders coach who hired Callahan, and because Callahan hated the Raiders.
"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."
Brown tried to backtrack from the word "sabotage" on Wednesday in a radio interview with "The Dan Patrick Show."
"I have never said that he sabotaged the game," Brown said Wednesday. "All I was saying after the game was, you know, the question was asked about this situation, but no one ever said -- and I said on the radio show last Saturday night -- that's something that could never be proven. We can't go inside the mind of Bill Callahan and say, 'Oh, yeah, we knew exactly what he was thinking, what he was trying to do.' All I'm saying is, the question was asked. But of course the media hears 'sabotage' and 'Bill Callahan' and 'throwing the football game,' now they're saying 'throwing the football game' and that terminology was never used. But that wasn't the intent."
While many of Brown's teammates, including quarterback Rich Gannon, came to Callahan's defense on radio and Twitter on Tuesday, Rice sided with Brown that Callahan's decision to shift the game plan from a run-oriented attack to a pass-heavy offense after a week of practice was done to hurt the team.
"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 Tuesday on ESPN's "NFL Live."
Rice and Brown also said the decision to alter the plan two days before the game might have contributed to starting center Barret Robbins leaving the team that Friday night to go party in Tijuana. Robbins missed a team meeting and walk-through and was suspended for the game. He was hospitalized and diagnosed as bipolar.
This isn't the first time Brown has made these accusations against Callahan.
"I've been talking about this for 10 years," Brown said Tuesday in an interview with ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM.
Former Raiders offensive lineman Frank Middleton said in a phone interview that he didn't believe Callahan's change in game plan contributed to Robbins' problems or that Callahan purposely lost the game even if there were bad feelings between the coach and players.
"Callahan hated us," Middleton said. "He didn't want to see a lot of us succeed because of who we were. I do believe Callahan had bad feelings against us. But to say he threw the game, I can't say that."
Middleton acknowledged that the plan the team used in the game was different from what was practiced but said he didn't know whether that was because Robbins had left the team and the Raiders were forced to use backup center Adam Treu.
The Raiders threw a then club-record 619 passes in the 2002 season but originally planned to run the ball more in the Super Bowl to take advantage of Tampa Bay's undersized defensive front. But Oakland fell behind early in the game and had 49 pass plays and a season-low 11 runs.
Gannon threw five interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns, in the lopsided loss.
Callahan is currently the offensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, then the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator, said he and Callahan haven't talked about the situation. But he said his Tampa Bay defense had something to do with the Raiders losing that game.
"I would like to think we played pretty good that day," Kiffin said Wednesday from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Information from ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins and The Associated Press was used in this report.