Former Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders great Tim Brown has a staggeringly impressive resume.
He played for 17 years in the NFL after a career at Notre Dame in which he earned the 1987 Heisman Trophy, and secured his place as one of the all-time great Raiders while playing the game in an explosive, consistent and classy fashion for his entire storied career.
Brown spent 16 of those years wearing the silver and black, making the Pro Bowl nine times, and was named to the NFL 1990's All-Decade team. He is a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, and one would have to search far and wide to find a more suitable candidate for a bust in Canton than "Touchdown Timmy."
All of these things make what he recently told SiriusXM NFL radio all the more stunning, as he reflected on the Raiders' 48-21 Super Bowl XXXVII thrashing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the interview, which aired Saturday, Brown called out his former coach.
“We get our game plan for victory on Monday, and the game plan says we’re gonna run the ball,” Brown said. “We averaged 340 [pounds] on the offensive line, they averaged 280 [on the defensive line]. We’re all happy with that, everybody is excited. [We] tell Charlie Garner, ‘Look, you’re not gonna get too many carries, but at the end of the day we’re gonna get a victory. Tyrone Wheatley, Zack Crockett, let’s get ready to blow this thing up.'"
Everything was looking good when, according to Brown, head coach Bill Callahan “blew this thing up” less than 48 hours before kickoff, completely scrapping the run-first attack, adopting a plan that required the Raiders to “throw the ball 60 times.”
At that point, according to Brown, it all appeared to make sense to him.
"We all called it sabotage...because Callahan and Gruden were good friends," the former star 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. He hated the Raiders so much that he would sabotage the Super Bowl so his friend can win the Super Bowl. That’s hard to say, because you can’t prove it."
It's a highly controversial opinion, especially from such a universally respected player, but is there any truth behind Brown's take on Callahan?
Former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon doesn't think so. Gannon, who saw his career as a mid-level journeyman take off when he arrived in Oakland, eventually winning the NFL MVP award during Oakland's Super Bowl season, defended his former coach.
“In terms of Bill Callahan, let me just say this: He was a good football coach, he was a good man,” Gannon said. “We all wanted to win.”
Perhaps more likely a cause for the total destruction of the Raiders by the Buccaneers that Sunday in 2003 was a combination of internal issues and an innocent on-field oversight by Callahan, rather than Callahan intentionally throwing the biggest game of his life.
First, there was the bizarre disappearance of Barrett Robbins, Oakland's Pro Bowl center and the anchor of their massive offensive line.
Robbins was missing for most of the day before the matchup with Tampa Bay and was later found to have stopped taking his medication for depression and gone to Tijuana on a drinking binge. Callahan had no choice but to remove him from the active roster and start Adam Treu in his place, as Robbins was incoherent and needed to be hospitalized the night before the Super Bowl.
"I was fearful something wrong was occurring," Callahan said after the game, "I was concerned about something tragic happening."
Second, there is the issue of the Raiders' on-field audibles. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden was in his first year as Buccaneers head coach after four years at the helm in Oakland. After a highly publicized spat with Raiders owner Al Davis led to Gruden's rights being traded to Tampa Bay, Davis promoted Callahan, Gruden's offensive coordinator, to head coach.
Perhaps because he never imagined his squad would face Gruden's in the Super Bowl, or perhaps because he was just being lazy, Callahan kept the same audibles from Gruden's tenure when he assumed control of the team. It lead to disaster in the Super Bowl.
“So much of our verbiage and terminology was a carryover from what Jon Gruden had installed in terms of our run checks, and so we were calling certain plays and guys like Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks were calling out the runs,” Gannon said. “So it kind of took us out of our no-huddle plan at the line of scrimmage.”
Buccaneers safety John Lynch, speaking to an assistant coach during the lopsided defeat of Oakland, was more blunt:
"They're too predictable! They're too predictable! We know 'em! Every play they've run, we ran in practice. It's unreal."
So, more likely than a career coach intentionally throwing away his shot at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity out of loyalty to a friend or hatred of his employer is the probability that Bill Callahan simply reacted poorly to a major personnel issue and failed to realize the vulnerability of his team's offense to Gruden, who spent the previous four years perfecting it.
Despite the fact that he probably didn't intentionally throw the game, it still doesn't make the embarrassing defeat any easier to swallow, even ten years later, for the Raider faithful.
Or for "Touchdown Timmy," who never got that elusive Super Bowl ring.