DALLAS– Former Heisman trophy winner and NFL star Tim Brown dropped a bombshell of a story Monday on Sirius Radio, but he insists he’s not breaking news. Apparently Brown has felt for years that current Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Bill Callahan sabotaged Super Bowl XXXVII as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, in part because of his disdain for the organization.
During a 30-minute interview with FoxSportsSouthwest.com on Tuesday, Brown provided more context as to why he believes Callahan may have undermined his team by completely scrapping his offensive game plan only 36 hours before the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were led by former Raiders coach Jon Gruden. On the surface, it seems like an absurd allegation. But then, Brown, who won a Heisman at Notre Dame before his illustrious NFL career, doesn’t lack for credibility. And the other starting wide receiver on that Raiders team, Jerry Rice, told ESPN on Tuesday that he pretty much agreed with everything Brown was saying.
“I believe [Callahan] had total disdain for the Raiders organization,” Brown told FoxSportSouthwest.com. “He had a major issue with the Raiders when he showed up in the late 90s. He thought the organization was undisciplined and disrespectful. But in my 16 years with the Raiders, we’d actually tried to do things the right way.”
As one of the veterans on the team, Brown said he tried to tell Callahan that it was unwise to scrap a run-heavy offensive game plan at the last minute. He said it led to several players going into the game with serious doubts, and he also believes that it could’ve played a role in starting center Barrett Robbins disappearing the night before the game. Robbins already had a history of off-field issues, but Brown believes the pressure of having to learn a new set of protections at the last minute may have contributed to him skipping out on the team.
What became clear, though, in Tuesday’s interview is that Callahan’s actions the following season contributed to Brown’s allegation. During a team meeting the week before a game against the Denver Broncos in late November, Callahan stood before the team and said he believed that only one player on the roster was “pulling his weight.” Brown remembers hearing Rice mumble the words, “don’t say me” right before Callahan mentioned the future Hall of Famer’s name. The comment riled several players, including Brown. They decided to send their head coach a message the Friday before the game. When Brown caught a short pass during practice, he said he ran it 99 yards and slammed the ball against a fence behind the end zone before raising his arms into the air. Several other receivers and running backs had done the same type thing, according to Brown. After practice, Callahan wanted to know what was going on.
“That’s our response to what you said,” Brown told Callahan. “If you think Jerry’s the only one who works hard, we wanted to send you a message. It’s either this or have someone jump in your face.”
Before that Broncos game, Brown said he walked up to Callahan to make sure everything was OK between them. Callahan said everything was fine, but then the Raiders lost the game in humiliating fashion (they didn’t score a TD) at the Coliseum, and the coach delivered his infamous line.
“We must be the dumbest team in America in terms of playing the game,” Callahan said of his 3-9 team.
The comments destroyed any loyalty that Callahan may have had from his players. It resulted in an emotional meeting the next day.
“I remember one player in particular standing up and saying, ‘Man, my mama heard you call me dumb,’ said Brown. “He certainly got an earful. It was the most intense football meeting I’ve ever been in. And it’s no exaggeration to say that I was seriously worried about Bill’s safety at that point. If he’d walked past certain guys, it could’ve been ugly.”
Brown says the 2003 season and Callahan’s failures at Nebraska only strengthened his belief the coach had intentionally tried to lose the Super Bowl. In numerous interviews Tuesday, he was given the chance to soften his stance. But he held firm in his belief that Callahan indeed sabotaged the game against his good pal Gruden.
It’s interesting that Brown tried to play the role of peacemaker a decade ago when Callahan made his “dumbest players” remark.
“We don’t want to part ways (as) enemies,” Brown was quoted saying in the San Francisco Chronicle after that loss to the Broncos.
Well, Brown’s no longer playing peacemaker in regards to Callahan, although he actually took time to praise him Tuesday in one respect.
“I think he’s probably the best X’s and O’s guy I’ve ever been around,” said Brown. “With him and Gruden together, it was unbelievable. We always believed we had a chance to be really successful.”
It’s unlikely Callahan, who’s at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., with the Cowboys, will be asked about that last quote. In light of the Super Bowl allegation, being patted on the back for his playcalling won’t qualify as a parting gift.