That’s the big question left in the wake of former Oakland wide receiver Tim Brown’s comments that then-Raiders head coach Bill Callahan sabotaged Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 by changing the offensive plan just days before Oakland lost to Tampa Bay 48-21.
While Brown made the comments this past weekend during a radio show on Sirius XM NFL radio, it’s a sentiment he’s shared since he caught one pass for nine yards in the game. Brown also said this weekend the change in the planning may have led to offensive lineman Barret Robbins going AWOL that week and not playing in the game. Robbins was later diagnosed as being bipolar.
Brown didn’t back off those comments Tuesday in an interview with FOXSportsSouthwest.com and believes Callahan didn’t enjoy his time with the Raiders.
“I believe [Callahan] had total disdain for the Raiders organization,” Brown said. “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.”
For those who played in the game, there’s nothing new to what Brown is saying. It’s just how he’s saying it.
“I think the word sabotage is a little strong,” former Oakland offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy told FOXSportsSouthwest.com. “When you hear that word, you think maliciously someone went out not to win the game. Even if that were the case, you couldn’t get that stuff by veteran players like me or Rich Gannon. It would never happen. The biggest thing is the word sabotage. It’s an attention getter. I don’t think that’s what he was intending.”
Kennedy said he’s good friends with Brown but that his recollection of what transpired differs from Brown’s.
Kennedy said the game plan going into the game was similar to what Oakland had done all season. One big difference was that there was only a week between the championship game and the Super Bowl, so the game plan had to be put in quickly. As for Brown’s sentiment that Callahan decided to scrap the run-based attack and go with a pass-happy offense a couple of days before the game, Kennedy doesn’t remember it that way.
He said Oakland had a heavy package in place for the game to focus on running the ball. That plan had to change quickly in the game. Oakland got a field goal in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead but Tampa Bay responded with 20 points to close the half and two touchdowns in the third quarter.
Running the ball wasn’t an option then.
“I do believe to a certain degree that Callahan was outcoached,” Kennedy said. “But I do believe we were also outplayed. I know I suffered through the worst game of my career. I don’t remember the game plan changing the way he [Brown] paints the picture. We had to score points. Callahan said we had to pass to get back into the game. I know going into the game we wanted to run the ball. We had a size advantage and wanted to take advantage of that.”
Other former teammates of Brown were a little more pointed in their disagreeing with his assessment.
“I’m absolutely flabbergasted,” former Oakland linebacker Bill Romanowski said to Tony Bruno and Jon Marks on Philadelphia radio station 97.5 FM on Tuesday. “Is he trying to be relevant for the Super Bowl? 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. And I’ll tell you what, I’m blown away that something like that would come out of an intelligent man’s mouth.”
Warren Sapp, who was on the other side of the scoreboard in the game playing for Tampa Bay, took to Twitter on Tuesday to take a swipe at Brown.
“Does Tim Brown have any idea if [Eagles coach Andy] Reid & [quarterback Donovan] McNabb threw the NFC champ game that year too,” Sapp tweeted.
While there are those who disagree with Brown, not everyone feels that way. Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, who had 77 yards and a touchdown in that Super Bowl game, said on ESPN Tuesday that he agreed with Brown.
Rice thinks that Callahan may have let his old boss — Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden — have the game.
“For some reason — and I don’t know why — Bill Callahan did not like me,” Rice said on the air. “In a way, maybe because he 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.’”
By Tuesday evening, Callahan had heard enough, releasing a statement to try to salvage his name, which had been dragged through the mud relentlessly over the last 24-plus hours.
“I am shocked, saddened and outraged by Tim Brown’s allegations and Jerry Rice’s support of those allegations,” Callahan said in a statement released to NFL.com. “To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegation. To suggest otherwise, especially at this time when it involves the Super Bowl, is ludicrous and defamatory.”
Rice also agrees with Brown’s assessment that the change in the approach may have had something to do with Robbins leaving the team.
That’s something Kennedy’s not buying. Robbins also had substance abuse problems and eventually was jailed for a probation violation related to drugs.
“Barrett had problems long before that game,” Kennedy said. “His problems were from off-the-field issues. I don’t believe that pushed him over the edge.”