We’re sure it’s just coincidence, but isn’t it odd how every bizarre sports story to come out over the last week has some Notre Dame connection? Obviously, first came Manti Te’o’s fake dead girlfriend. Then came the story of the recruit who made up his Notre Dame visit. And now we have the tale of Tim Brown, longtime Raider receiver – but before that, Heisman Trophy winner for the Fighting Irish – kinda sorta not-sayin-just-sayin accusing former coach Bill Callahan of sabotaging the Raiders’ chances in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Bucs. Here’s what Brown said on the radio over the weekend:
“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.
So far so good… but then, later in the week, the game plan suddenly changes. Now it’s all about throwing the ball. What did Brown think of that?
“We all called it sabotage . . . because Callahan and [Tampa Bay coach Jon] Gruden were good friends. 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.
First couple years, maybe. But he’d put in four as the offensive coordinator under Gruden. If he really hated being there so much, would he have taken the head coaching job in the first place/cared enough to guide them to the Super Bowl to begin with? Just some things to consider in the future, Tim, and oh wait he wasn’t finished yet:
“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.
“But the facts are what they are, that less than 36 hours before the game we changed our game plan. And we go into that game absolutely knowing that we have no shot. That the only shot we had if Tampa Bay didn’t show up.”
Quality hedging, Tim. And besides the obvious why the hell would you throw the Super Bowl? question, there’s this: yes, if the team changed the game plan a couple nights before the game, that doesn’t seem smart at all. But there was also this: there was no good way to attack the Bucs’ defense that year. They were awesome, first in the NFL in both points and yards allowed. And yes, while their pass defense (tops in the league in every relevant metric) was especially strong, their run defense was damn good too – fifth in the league in both yards and yards per carry allowed, and third in fewest rushing touchdowns yielded.
Not to mention that throwing the ball all over the place was what got the Raiders to the Super Bowl to begin with. They were okay running the ball – 18th in the league in yards, 13th in yards per carry, and an impressive fifth in touchdowns. But the Rich-Gannon-led passing game made the team go: Oakland gained the most overall yards in the league because they threw for the most, with Gannon racking up 4,689 yards through the air. The team’s leading rusher, Charlie Garner, had nearly as many receiving yards (941) as rushing yards (962). Hell, why are we explaining this all to Brown? He should know as well as anyone about that passing game, given that his 81 receptions and 930 receiving yards (third on the Raiders in both categories) made him a critical component of it.
The Raiders had three basic options going into the game. They could go for a balanced attack (and considering they threw the ball about 60 percent of the time during the regular season and the pass-heavy strategy got them to the Super Bowl, that woud have been questionable, at best. They could have gone totally against their previous formula and did what Brown says the team expected, and keep the ball on the ground. That would have meant combating very good (the Bucs’ run defense) with merely solid (their rushing offense). Also seems questionable.
Looking at things through that prism, the decision to stick to what had worked so well for them and fight mega-elite (the Bucs’ pass defense) with elite (their passing game), doesn’t make us think, “Why did they do that?” – it makes us think, “Why wasn’t that their plan all along?” Granted, the strategy didn’t wind up working – Gannon threw five interceptions and the Raiders rushed for 19 yards on 11 carries; one could reasonably argue that the Raiders should have tried to run it a little more – but the Bucs’ defense was outstanding all around that year, and as the 48-21 final indicated, they were the better team, period. We weren’t there and Brown was, but “The Raiders got whipped by the superior squad” seems a lot more realistic than “Bill Callahan tried to lose the damn SUPER BOWL because he got mad at the Raiders’ players sometimes.”
Besides, ask any Nebraska fan about Callahan. Any one of them will tell you he doesn’t have to try to screw things up.
UPDATE: As we speak, Jerry Rice is pretty much agreeing with Brown’s position on NFL Live on ESPN, and concurring that he switched the game plan out of nowhere way too close to the game. This is really, really weird, and as long as they’re correct that Callahan switched the game plan at the last second, that does seem monumentally stupid. But does it prove that a guy wanted to lose? Nope. Plus, as PFT noted, it’s possible that a certain pass-happy Raiders owner might have had a hand in torpedoing any run-heavy game plan.
And here’s a link to some of Rice’s comments. He actually thinks Bill Callahan threw the Super Bowl. This might not be the third-weirdest story of the wek anymore.
Getty photo, by Donald Miralle