It's that wonderful time of the year again: Super Bowl double week. Time to reflect upon Super Bowls past, basking in the NFL Films nostalgia of legendary performances and epic games. Remember Marcus Allen swerving around the Redskins' defense before hitting light speed for 74 yards? Remember Montana to Taylor? Remember when Steve Young threw those six touchdown passes and finally got the monkey off his back?
Oh, and remember the time Bill Callahan sabotaged the Raiders' Super Bowl?
You may not remember it that way. You may remember it as the 2002-2003 Oakland Raiders losing their talent as if sucked away by the Space Jam aliens.
But Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, the legendary wide-outs on that team, would disagree.
"We all called it sabotage," Brown said on XM Radio over the weekend, a few days before the game's 10th anniversary.
"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,'" Rice agreed today on ESPN's NFL Live.
Gruden, of course, had been the Raiders' coach the previous four years, leading the team as far as the AFC Championship game. In 2002, Owner Al Davis traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a handful of draft picks and some cash. Bill Callahan, the Raiders' offensive coordinator under Gruden, was promoted to head coach. As these things happen, the Raiders and Bucs met in the following Super Bowl. And Gruden's Bucs won handily, 48-21.
"Callahan and Gruden were good friends," Brown explained on the radio. "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."
Rice, who played in both Bay Area teams' most recent Super Bowl, also noted that "For some reason -- and I don't know why -- Bill Callahan did not like me."
That some of Callahan's former players have negative things to say about him is no surprise. Back in 2003, as the Raiders slumped through a post-Super Bowl hangover (which, really, continues to this day), he was already losing the team. As ESPN reported:
[Charles] Woodson, a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback who could become a free agent, has been one of Callahan's most outspoken critics. He has called Callahan stubborn and said he lost the respect of his team.
"He's really made this thing personal," Woodson said Monday. "When things get personal, it's not a good situation to be around people that it's personal with. I won't play for him.
"He's not the type of person you want to be around. He's just really brought a really negative vibe to this team over the course of the season."
But sabotage the Super Bowl?
Brown alleged that Callahan did it by switching up game plans at the last second.
"We get our game plan for victory on Monday, and the game plan says we're gonna run the ball," the Raiders all-time leader in pretty much every receiving category said. "We averaged 340 on the offensive line, they averaged 280. We're all happy with that, everybody is excited."
And then, two days before the game, Brown said, the strategy flipped to a passing-oriented attack.
The evidence lacks sizzle. And Brown admits as much.
"It's hard to say that the guy sabotaged the Super Bowl," he went on to say. "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," he added, "because you can't prove it."
When it comes to accusing people of sabotaging Super Bowl XXXVII, Raiders fans probably wouldn't put Callahan higher than third on the list.
Barrett Robbins, the All-Pro center, went missing the day before the game. When he showed up the next morning, according to the Associated Press story, he was "was incoherent and didn't know where he was the night before." Years later he would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
And then there was Rich Gannon. You can't totally blame him for the five interceptions. That Bucs defense was tough. Plus Gruden knew Gannon well. And maybe a receiver ran a bad route in there somewhere.
Still, if there was anyone who would want to pawn off blame for the loss, it would be Gannon. But he's not buying into Rice's and Brown's accusation.
"In terms of Bill Callahan, he's a good football coach," he said on SiriusXM today, according to NFL.com. "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."