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2003 Season Review

The Raiders embark on their 2003 season expecting to return to the Super Bowl for a second straight year. Led by quarterback Rich Gannon, the NFL's reigning most valuable player, they feature a nucleus of savvy, big-game veterans.

In one of the great collapses in NFL history, the Raiders plummet from their perch as defending AFC champion to also-ran in a span of four months.

As the losses and injuries pile up, this aging team lacks the resolve to overcome myriad mistakes. After a 2-2 start, Oakland loses 10 of its last 12 games and ties for the league's worst record.

During the final two months of the season, cornerback Charles Woodson and wide receiver Tim Brown openly criticize second year-head coach Bill Callahan. By season's end, Callahan has pushed many veterans beyond their limit. Brown tells the NFL Network following the season:

"It got to the point where we're literally telling guys in the locker room, 'Nobody hit this guy, OK?' It's to that point where you think somebody is going to take a shot at him."

With a 4-12 record, the Raiders become the first team in league history to fail to win at least five games the year after playing in a Super Bowl.

Two days after the season mercifully ends, Callahan is dismissed; the official word in Raidersspeak: The team declines to pick up the option on his contract. The following week, senior assistant Bruce Allen leaves the club to become general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

For the Raiders, the departure of Callahan and Allen completes a season of chaos.

Here's a capsule review:

Biggest Disappointments

  • In a span of 11 months, Bill Callahan (below) goes from a Super Bowl coach to The Whipping Boy of the Raiders' abysmal 2003 season. After their season-ending loss at San Diego on Dec. 28, wide receiver Tim Brown tells reporters: "With everything that has gone down, even though the damage is repairable, I don't know if (Callahan) is the guy who can bring this team back. If he's back, it's going to take three years ... because nobody's going to trust him. And that's our problem right now."

    Callahan guarantees his firing when he tells reporters following an Oakland home loss to Denver on Nov. 30: "We've got to be the dumbest team in America in terms of playing the game." Even though the Raiders commit three penalties that lead to three Denver touchdowns, Callahan makes the grievous mistake of lashing out at his players publicly when his pointed criticism should have been confined to the locker room. Informed of Callahan's insolent remarks, cornerback Charles Woodson tells reporters: "I can't believe another man would call a grown man dumb. If he (Callahan) said we're dumb, he's dead wrong."

    Many Raiders reportedly are incensed at Callahan after he suspends Woodson and running back Charlie Garner for the season finale because they miss a team function and curfew the night before. Woodson and Garner learn of their suspensions after they arrive with their teammates at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium the morning of the game. The following day, Woodson tells Bay Area reporters: "I won't play for him. This is where I plan on being (next season). I don't plan on Callahan being here."

    Brown, speaking on his San Francisco radio show later in the day, tells his audience that Callahan "coached to get fired" and "sabotaged" the season with divisive comments to veteran players. "Some of the things he pulled this year were so personal towards the team you would have to bring some psychiatrist in here to deal with these guys before they could get over it," Brown said on KNBR-680 radio Dec. 29.

    Callahan tells Sporting News Radio on Jan. 6: "The notion that I would sabotage the season is absolutely delusional. Do you think that I would coach 26 years to become a head coach in the National Football League, go to a Super Bowl, so I can throw a season? I don't think so."

    Callahan initiates his downfall by tweaking the Oakland offense after its Super Bowl XXXVII meltdown against Tampa Bay. A year after leading the league in total offense (389.8 yards per game) and ranking second in scoring (28.1 points per game), the Raiders drop to 25th in offense (285.8 yards) and scoring (16.9 points).

    Callahan reportedly creates a rift between himself and his team by fining players for petty rules violations. First-year tight end Teyo Johnson tells the San Jose Mercury News that he was fined $5,000 for being one minute late for a 7 a.m. weightlifting session.

  • Future Hall of Fame receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice (80) endure one of the worst seasons of their NFL careers. Brown, 37, finishes with 52 receptions, his fewest since 1992 when he had 49 catches. His average of 10.8 yards per catch is the lowest of his career - except for 1989 when he was sidelined after one game because of a knee injury. Rice, 41, contributes a team-high 63 catches, his fewest since his rookie season in 1985 when he had 49 receptions (Rice had seven catches in 1997, when he played in two games before sustaining a season-ending knee injury). In 2003, Brown and Rice each have two TD catches - the fewest for Rice in a non-injury season since he had three in 1985. Brown also had two TD receptions in 2002.

  • Injuries to key players prevent the Raiders from having a chance to turn around their season after a 2-7 start. Quarterback Rich Gannon (shoulder), free safety Rod Woodson (knee), linebacker Bill Romanowski (concussion) and defensive tackle John Parrella (groin) are among a group of 12 players (including nine starters) placed on injured reserve during the regular season.

  • Linebacker Bill Romanowski punches reserve tight end Marcus Williams during practice Aug. 24, fracturing Williams' left eye socket. Raiders coach Bill Callahan gives Romanowski a slap-on-the-wrist penalty - a one-day suspension and an undisclosed fine (reportedly equal to one game check). Williams is released by the Raiders off of their injured reserve list Oct. 28, 12 days after he files a $3.8 million civil suit against Romanowski.

  • Cornerback/punt returner Phillip Buchanon provides more big plays for the opposition than he does for the Raiders. On the positive side, Buchanon returns two interceptions and a punt for touchdowns in 2003. The second-year player has five touchdowns in 21 regular-season games. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the former University of Miami star struggles in pass coverage and hurts his team with brain-lock decisions.

    During Oakland's 27-24 loss to Kansas City on Nov. 23, Buchanon (31) is assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for taking off his helmet on the field after he returns a fourth-quarter punt 27 yards. He then runs to the end zone before talking trash with Chiefs fans. Instead of starting a drive deep in K.C. territory, the Raiders begin at the Chiefs' 41 and settle for a game-tying field goal. The Chiefs then drive 38 yards to set up Morten Andersen's game-winning 35-yard field goal. Oakland's Tim Brown tells reporters after the game: "Phillip giveth, and Phillip taketh away. That's just the way it is now."

Roll Call

You know a team is in trouble when its punter is its most productive player. Lechler ranks first in the NFL with a 46.9-yard gross average (2.3 yards better than runner-up Craig Hentrich of the Titans) and is third with a 37.2-yard net average. The fourth-year Raider has a league-best 73-yarder and drops 27 punts inside the opponent's 20. Lechler is overlooked for the Pro Bowl, but he makes the 2003 Associated Press All-Pro Team. Go figure.

Graceful Exit
After playing the final Raiders home game of his 11-year NFL career on Dec. 22 against Green Bay, offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy (below) walks to the front of the seating area at Network Associates Coliseum and begins exchanging hugs and handshakes with spectators. Kennedy, who sustained an injured left triceps during the Raiders' 41-7 loss to the Packers, circles the field before heading to the locker room. "I just went around to the people left in the stands when it was over and thanked them for coming out," Kennedy tells reporters. "They have been a big reason for my success."

Road To Respect
Center Barret Robbins, criticized by teammates and media for going on a drinking binge the day before Super Bowl XXXVII, returned to the starting lineup in Week 4 against San Diego. Robbins, who has bipolar disorder (a chemical imbalance in the brain), started 10 consecutive games before being sidelined the final four weeks because of a knee injury. Robbins' quest to regain the trust of his teammates and resume his playing career was one of the few positives of an otherwise dismal Raiders season.

Flag Day
The Raiders rank first in penalties (134) and penalty yards (1,120). The league average is 105.6 penalties and 875.8 penalty yards. It's the 13th time the Raiders lead the league in penalties and 11th time for penalty yards. Only the Chicago Bears have a more dubious record - leading the league 16 times in penalties and 15 times in penalty yards.

Fast Facts

Bill Callahan is the third Raiders coach to be fired after two seasons. The others are Eddie Erdelatz (1960-61), Marty Feldman (1961-61) and Mike White (1995-96). Mike Shanahan (1988-89) was dismissed four games into his second season with the Raiders. Callahan and White finished with the same regular-season record at 15-17.
The Raiders fail to win a road game (0-8) in a season for only the second time in franchise history. They went 0-7 in 1962 en route to a 1-13 record. Since their 27-7 win at San Diego on Dec. 8, 2002, the Raiders have lost nine straight road games (the franchise record for consecutive road losses is 10, set in 1961-62.)
The Raiders finish the 2003 season with 10 losses in 12 games, equaling the second worst 12-game stretch in club history. They went 2-10 in 1987 and 1997-98. The Raiders dropped a franchise-record 19 straight games in 1961-62.
The Raiders are 3-23 since 1999 when scoring less than 21 points.

By The Numbers:

0: Raiders voted to the 2004 Pro Bowl. It's the first time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that the team fails to have at least one player in the league's annual postseason all-star game.

2: Touchdown catches for Tim Brown during the 2003 season, equaling his TD output the previous season. Brown, a 16-year veteran, had 20 TD catches combined during 2000 & 2001.

7: Rushing TDs by Zack Crockett. The Raiders had only 23 offensive touchdowns during the 2003 season.

21: Field goals by Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski in 22 attempts under 50 yards.

270: Raiders points - a decrease of 280 points from 2002.

Parting Shot

No head coach in Raiders history had such a meteoric rise and fall as Bill Callahan. In two seasons, he went from the heights of leading his team to a Super Bowl to being flogged by mutinous players. While the stoic-to-the-end Callahan is an easy scapegoat, managing general partner Al Davis and some key veterans also must shoulder the blame for Oakland’s stunning collapse.

After cornerback Charles Woodson criticized Callahan (right) for being egotistical in an ESPN interview in late October, Davis needed to intervene — suspend Woodson, or at least fine him. When Woodson went unpunished for ripping his coach on national television, the Raiders' season was officially toast. And the revolution in the locker room was just gaining steam.

Woodson and running back Charlie Garner showed their utter contempt for their soon-to-be-fired head coach by missing curfew the night before the 2003 season finale in San Diego. Callahan, who didnt have any previous head coaching experience at the college or NFL level before replacing Jon Gruden in 2002, reacted the only way he could — by suspending the two players.

As the season deteriorated and tension mounted with every loss, players blamed play-calling and injuries — instead of their poor performance — for Oakland's meltdown. Then, in the final days of Callahan’s two-year reign, Woodson and Tim Brown hurled more insults at their beleaguered head coach.

In this season of underachievement, these mistake-prone, ego-driven Raiders got what they deserved.

The Last Words

"We all have to accept responsibility for what transpired this year. This is a complete embarrassment to this organization. I wouldn't say I'd take a torch to the place, but it wouldn't be far from that."

Raiders QB Rich Gannon

"I've never seen so many problems, so many injuries, everything. The little things became big problems ... There's a big problem with this organization. It's a bigger problem than people think."

Raiders DT Dana Stubblefield

"You have to win in this business, nothing else matters other than life or death. There are years of glory, there are years of defeat. And make no mistake about it, 2003 was a year of defeat."

Raiders owner Al Davis

"That one (Super Bowl) year we loved playing for coach Callahan. We ran through the wall for that guy. But once this season started, guys felt like they were jilted without explanation."

Raiders CB Terrance Shaw

Photos captions/credits:
Phillip Buchanon (31) is burned by the
Lions' Cory Schlesinger for a TD Nov. 2, 2003.

Detroit Free Press

Lincoln Kennedy head shot.

Jerry Rice contemplates his future during the
Raiders' 41-7 loss to Green Bay on Dec. 22, 2003.
The Associated Press

Phillip Buchanon (right) chases the
Chiefs' Priest Holmes on Nov. 23, 2003.
The Associated Press

Bill Callahan on the sidelines
against the Lions on Nov. 2, 2003.
The Associated Press

Updated: 1-31-2004


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