Just when you thought that things couldn't get any worse for the Oakland Raiders, they have, even if it took a trip of more than a decade into the past to make that happen.
As the rest of the NFL gears up for Super Bowl XLVII and the announcement of this year's class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of this year's finalists and an all-time Raiders great has created a firestorm of controversy surrounding Super Bowl XXXVII, which was the last time that Oakland played in the biggest game in football.
Wide receiver Tim Brown, appearing on SiriusXM Radio earlier this week, accused then-head coach Bill Callahan of sabotaging the Raiders in that game by changing to a pass-heavy game plan just before the Super Bowl, according to Larry Hartstein of CBS Sports.
"We get our game plan for victory on Monday, and the game plan says we're gonna run the ball. We averaged 340 (pounds) on the offensive line, they averaged 280 (on the defensive line). We're all happy with that, everybody is excited."
Brown claimed Callahan, now the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, switched to a pass-heavy game plan the Friday before the game.
"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. Literally walked off the field on us a couple of times during the season when he first got there, the first couple years.
"So really he had become someone who was part of the staff, but we just didn't pay him any attention. Gruden leaves, he becomes the head coach. ... It's hard to say that the guy sabotaged the Super Bowl. 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. ... That's hard to say because you can't prove it."
Brown went on to assert that the last-minute change deeply bothered center Barret Robbins, who disappeared, only to be found the day before the game after allegedly wandering the streets of Tijuana. Robbins' career all but ended with that scandal.
"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.
The controversy then picked up steam when Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice, who was on that Raiders team, told ESPN's Trey Wingo (via Pro Football Talk) that he essentially agreed with Brown's claims.
“For some reason — and I don’t know why — Bill Callahan did not like me,” Rice said. “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.’”
“With Barret, he was frustrated, like, ‘You cannot do this to us at the last second.’ Maybe that’s why he decided to not show up,” Rice said.
Before we get any further, I'm going to offer my two cents on the veracity of this claim.
First, as PFT pointed out, the Raiders threw all of three more passes in the Super Bowl than they did in that year's AFC Championship game, and that was even with the Raiders playing from behind for much of the game.
Second, winning a Super Bowl will change a head coach's life forever. I don't care how much Bill Callahan may have hated the Raiders or liked Jon Gruden. He's not going to torpedo his own coaching career out of friendship or spite.
If you want to beat Callahan up for keeping much of Gruden's terminology intact, which effectively told the Buccaneers what was coming, then fine.
That's stupidity, not sabotage, and to say that he intentionally threw the Super Bowl is just crazy talk.
Apparently quarterback Rich Gannon, who was the NFL's MVP that season, agrees, as he vehemently refuted Brown's allegations in a SiriusXM interview that was reported on by Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.
"In terms of Bill Callahan, he's a good football coach. He's a good man. I don't think he would intentionally -- ever (not try to win.) Nor do I think anyone would ever. There was too much in it for all of us. There was too much vested in trying to become world champions. From a selfish perspective, we all wanted to win. I'm sure Bill Callahan was one of them," Gannon said.
The thing is, no matter which side you believe, this is a black eye for a Raiders organization that has had more than its fair share of those over the past decade.
If you believe Brown, then the last bit of success the Oakland Raiders had before a 10-plus-year stretch of futility (that hasn't ended yet) culminated in the biggest sham in the history of the NFL.
Did Bill Callahan "Sabotage" the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII?
If you find the accusations to be ludicrous, then one of the greatest players ever to don the silver and black comes off like a petulant child, a man so petty that he took a personal beef with a former coach to an extreme that boggles the mind.
Apparently Brown now realizes that's exactly how he came off to many people, because by Wednesday he was telling "The Dan Patrick Show" (via Will Brinson of CBS Sports) that he never said the things he said.
"I have never said that he sabotaged the game. All that was said after the game was, the question was asked about this situation," Brown said. "But no one ever said, and I said it on the radio show the other night, it's something that can never be proven. We can never go into the mind of Bill Callahan and say, 'Oh, yeah. We knew exactly what he was thinking and what he was trying to do.' All I'm saying is the question was asked."
So while Tim Brown tries desperately to put the genie back in the bottle (it's the internet age, Timmy, can't be done) and Oakland fans already reeling from years of losing are dealt another slap across the face, at this point there are only two things we know for certain.
The first is never say things can't get any worse than they already are. They can.
The second is that with all of the talking in circles, Tim Brown has a future as a member of Congress.