TAMPA, Fla. — Sabotage? Sour grapes. Super Bowl conspiracy? A large, loud “Whatever.”
Usually, a 10th anniversary is associated with tin. This one will be recalled for tainted words. Four days after former Oakland Raiders receiver Tim Brown said on Sirius XM NFL Radio that then-Raiders coach Bill Callahan switched from a run-first plan to a pass-heavy approach late, scrambling their chances in Super Bowl XXXVII, some winners from that night a decade ago are confused. Confounded. Steamed.
“Basically, he said that we didn’t win the game, that he gave us the game,” Simeon Rice, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end, told FOXSportsFlorida.com about his team’s 48-21 rout in San Diego. “The sabotage factor is crazy, because you would say, ‘How do you even get in that game and lose that game if it was about sabotage?’ Basically, you’re putting mortality into your careers. That means the head coach is trying to get himself fired and trying to get himself out of the league. If that’s the case, why wait for the big stage with that magnitude?”
Good question. Even Brown seemed to straddle both sides of a pit of his creation. In the same interview last Saturday, he said, “It’s hard to say that the guy sabotaged the Super Bowl. You know, can you really say that?” (He later denied that he said Callahan sabotaged the game.)
Let’s rewind. The crux of Brown’s claim is that Callahan, now the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, all but shined the Lombardi Trophy for his pal Jon Gruden to graffiti the silver and black. Jerry Rice, then a Raiders receiver, backed the theory Tuesday on ESPN by saying, “In a way, maybe because (Callahan) didn’t like the Raiders, he decided, ‘Maybe we should sabotage this a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one.’ ”
Callahan, of course, denies the X-Files talk. He said he was “shocked, saddened and outraged” by Brown’s assertions and Jerry Rice’s support of them.
Lost in the back and forth is that former Bucs have pride too. For some, this is worth a laugh. And a shake of the head.
“It’s funny,” former Tampa Bay safety Dwight Smith, who intercepted quarterback Rich Gannon twice that day, told FOXSportsFlorida.com. “Tim came to play with us (in 2004). He never mentioned anything when he came to play here.”
“Being the football man I am, I kind of I understood where he was coming from, basically talking about them changing their offense because we were more of a pass defense,” Smith continued. “We weren’t that strong against the run that year (allowed 97.1 yards per game). … I can understand them thinking about that in their game plan. But I can also see them wanting to go back to what got them to being (11-5). … I know it would have seemed crazy to me if (coordinator) Monte (Kiffin) would have came and changed our whole defensive plan on the Friday.”
Callahan’s original plan, if presented the way Brown claims, suggests the coach was drifting from Oakland’s strength. At regular season’s end, the Raiders led the NFL by averaging 279.7 passing ypg (the Bucs owned the league’s best pass defense by allowing 155.6 ypg). Gannon threw for a career-high 4,689 yards, and he produced 26 touchdowns, a total that he only surpassed twice (28 in 2000 and 27 in ’01). Meanwhile, the Raiders were much weaker as a rushing offense, averaging 110.1 ypg, good for 18th in the league (the Bucs ranked fifth in rush defense).
By the end, the Raiders played the pavement to the Bucs’ steamroller. Tampa Bay outgained Oakland 365 yards to 269. Gannon was intercepted five times, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Raiders squeaked out 19 yards on 11 carries. Checkmate.
Almost 10 years later, Brown’s words have stirred emotions as well as memories. To some, his jab at Callahan caught the Bucs’ jaw too.
The blowout? Members of the winning sideline will keep their rings, thank you.
“I get it that he’s bitter about the situation. He’s bitter about losing and in the way that they lost,” Simeon Rice said. “It was a total blowout. It was almost like they shouldn’t have even been in the game. … I just shook my head (after hearing Brown’s claim) like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m glad we won that game.’ I guess that’s how it is when you lose. That’s when you walk away with those type of ghosts in the back of your mind, thinking about the past and how it could have been different and all the things that went into it.”
There are big-money questions left unanswered, though. Why has this come out now? If true, why wait?
“I just want to know how you have guys from that team who work on TV — Jerry Rice, Tim Brown — and this is the first you’re hearing of it,” Smith said. “You’d have thought at least one of those guys would have came up with it before.”