Former Raiders coach Bill Callahan denied allegations made by ex-player Tim Brown — and supported by fellow Oakland receiver Jerry Rice — that Callahan “sabotaged” the Raiders in their Super Bowl XXXVII loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.
Brown and Rice both said in recent interviews they believe Callahan undermined his own team in the Jan. 23, 2003 game in San Diego because of his close friendship with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden by altering the game plan less than two days before Oakland’s 48-21 loss at Qualcomm Stadium.
Callahan, currently the Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach, refuted the allegations in a statement on dallascowboys.com
"There are many people who are disappointed by the outcome of Super Bowl XXVII, but none more than me," Callahan said in the statement posted Jan. 22. "While I fully understand a competitive professional football player’s disappointment when a game’s outcome doesn’t go his team’s way, I am shocked, saddened and outraged by Tim Brown’s allegations and Jerry Rice’s support of those allegations made through various media outlets over the last 24 hours.
"To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegations."
"Like every game I ever coached on the professional or collegiate level, I endeavor to the best of my professional ability to position my team to win. To suggest otherwise, especially at this time when it involved the Super Bowl, is ludicrous and defamatory.
"I have always honored the spirit of competition that drives us to sport as children and, for the luck few, sustains us in adulthood. Any suggestion that I would undermine the integrity of the sport that I love and dedicate my life to, or dishonor the commitment I made to our players, coaches and fans, is flat out wrong. I think it would be in the best interests of all including the game America loves that these allegations be retracted immediately."
"I want to extend my personal and my family’s deep appreciation to the coaches, players and fans who have come forward and thoughtfully spoken out against these ill-conceived allegations.”
In a Jan. 19 interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Brown, right, reportedly said that he believed Callahan altered the game plan because of his ties to Gruden, the former Raiders coach who hired Callahan, and because Callahan hated the Raiders.
"We all called it sabotage, because Callahan and Gruden was good friends, and Callahan had a big problem with the Raiders, hated the Raiders, and only came because Gruden made him come,” Brown said.
While many of Brown’s teammates, including quarterback Rich Gannon, came to Callahan’s defense on radio and Twitter on Jan. 22, Rice supported Brown's claim that Callahan’s decision to shift the game plan from a run-oriented attack to a pass-heavy offense after a week of practice was done to hurt the team.
"I was very surprised that he waited till the last second and I think a lot of the players they were surprised also so in a way maybe because he didn’t like the Raiders he decided ‘Hey look maybe we should sabotage just a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one,’” Rice reportedly told ESPN on Jan. 22.
Gannon, the 2002 NFL Most Valuable Player, reportedly said on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Jan. 22 that he believed that Callahan, right, wanted to win against the Bucs. Gannon said the ease of Tampa Bay’s victory stemmed from the Raiders having not changed much of the offensive play calls after Gruden left following the 2001 season.
"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."
During the 2002 season, the AFC champion Raiders threw a then team-record 619 passes. Against the NFC champ Bucs in the Super Bowl, Oakland had a season-low 11 runs and 49 pass plays. Gannon threw five interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns, and Brown contributed one catch for nine yards against Tampa Bay's fierce defense.
Both Brown and Rice reportedly also said the decision to alter the game plan less than two days before the Super Bowl might have contributed to Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins leaving the team that Friday night to go party in Tijuana. Robbins reportedly missed a team meeting and walkthrough and was suspended for the game. He was hospitalized and diagnosed as bipolar.
Former Raiders offensive lineman and Frank Middleton reportedly said that he didn’t believe Callahan’s change in the game plan contributed to Robbins’ problems or that Callahan purposely lost the game even if there were bad feelings between the coach and players.
"Callahan hated us,” Middleton told The Associate Press on Jan. 22. “He didn’t want to see a lot of us succeed because of who we were. I do believe Callahan had bad feelings against us. But to say he threw the game, I can’t say that.”