DeSOTO — There's a lot to consider as we try to digest the story of Tim Brown accusing Bill Callahan of sabotaging Super Bowl XXXVII.
Former teammates are talking, ex-players and ex-coaches are talking, but no one is talking to each other. And because of that, we can't see a good debate and watch guys have to back up their thoughts and opinions in the face of a direct challenge.
We're left with a classic "he said, he said" scenario.
A brief summary: Brown, a former wide receiver, says the Oakland Raiders had a game plan to run the ball down Tampa Bay's throat; to use their size advantage in the trenches to push around the Bucs.
But on the Friday before the game, Brown says, the head coach completely changed the game plan, with Callahan saying the Raiders would throw the ball 60 times.
The final numbers: Tampa Bay beat Oakland 48-21. Quarterback Rich Gannon threw 44 times and the Oakland running backs combined for nine carries. Brown says Callahan hated the Raiders organization even while he worked for them, and Brown inferred that Callahan was doing his friend and former boss Jon Gruden a favor by helping him win that Super Bowl.
On Tuesday, we did a TV interview with Brown, and here is my effort to sift through everything — from what he told us, to all the noise surrounding this story.
Keep this in mind before we go on: Brown told us he has no "axe to grind" with Callahan, and that appeared to be the case.
When we asked Brown about what kind of play-caller Callahan is (because of the talk that he might become the Cowboys play-caller), Brown said, "There is no better X's and O's guy in the NFL that I know of, certainly that I dealt with."
Brown also told us he used to warm up before training camp practices by playing catch with Callahan's son, which was one of the reasons why he never considered telling Nebraska they were making a mistake by hiring Callahan in 2004.
"It's hard enough to get jobs around here; I definitely don't want to be the reason why somebody doesn't have a job," Brown told us. "But when you hear people taking down a teammate, I think that you have to at least stick up for them."
That teammate was Barret Robbins, a former TCU center who famously went AWOL the Friday night before the Super Bowl in 2003. Brown says the change in game plan on Friday threw the "unstable" Robbins off, and that it doesn't take "a quantum leap here to say one thing affected the other."
Jerry Rice played on that same Raiders team, and now works as an ESPN analyst. Watching Rice on "NFL Live" Tuesday afternoon with WFAA sports director Sean Hamilton, we both determined that Rice basically agreed with everything Tim Brown said, but Rice would not go so far as to actually say Callahan sabotaged the game. He did say it was very unusual to change the game plan on the Friday before the game.
For his part, Brown says that in his 27 years as a football player, he never had a coach change the game plan two days before the game.
Following Rice's appearance, we heard the opinions of former NFL coach Eric Mangini and former linebacker Antonio Pierce (both ESPN employees). Both said Brown's story is crazy; neither think that Callahan would sabotage the Super Bowl; but neither provided any good explanation as to why a coach would completely change the game plan so late in the week.
Mangini said it's not uncommon to make adjustments to the game plan late in the week, and in a vacuum, that's true. But judging from Brown's comments, it's obvious that — in his mind — this was not a matter of making late-week adjustments; this was a complete overhaul.
The Raiders quarterback at the time, Rich Gannon, went on Sirius XM NFL Radio to disagree with Brown's assertions.
“I think what happened was that we came out and tried to run the football early in that game; we didn’t have a lot of success,” Gannon said. “We fell behind in the game, and at that point we started throwing the ball too much.”
That's a football cliché we've all heard — when a team gets down early, they have to abandon the run and throw it the ball.
But that's not what happened to the Raiders in that Super Bowl, at least not early in the game.
Their first offensive series began in Tampa Bay territory, after a Charles Woodson interception. Gannon threw three passes to start, completing two of them.
After a 1-yard run by Charlie Garner, Gannon ran for two yards (I'm going to assume this was not a designed run), and then he was sacked on 3rd-and-long. That's five designed pass plays and one run play.
The Raiders kicked a field goal to go ahead 3-0.
Tampa Bay came back with a field goal to tie the game, and then the Raiders went three-and-out: 6-yard completion, incomplete pass, sack. Their first two offensive drives: 1 running play, 8 passing plays.
That is not trying to establish the run.
In the first half, before the game got out of hand, the Raiders dropped back to pass 21 times, and they handed off nine times, including two at the end of the half when the Raiders were running out the clock.
Gannon threw five interceptions in that game, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Brown uses this as further evidence that everyone on offense was off-balance because of the late change to the game plan.
"I don't think he threw five picks that whole season (note: Gannon had 10 interceptions in 2002), and for him to say that he was ready and the game plan didn't change that much, 'But oh yeah, I threw five picks in that game,' it is what it is," Brown said.
When we talked to Brown early in the afternoon, he was surprised at all the attention his comments were getting. After all, he says, he has been talking about it for 10 years. In fact, Wednesday morning, the guys from 1310 AM the Ticket in Dallas played audio of Brown telling them this exact story two years ago at one of their events. I listened closely for discrepancies between the story then and the one Brown is telling this week; the only differences: he said two years ago that the Raiders offensive line averaged 335-340 pounds (compared to 350 this week), and he never used the word "sabotage," at least not on the clip the Ticket played.
So why hasn't this been a national story until now? Was he telling the wrong people (local media members instead of national)? Did Brown talk about this a few years ago, and we here in North Texas just didn't hear/care because Callahan was in Lincoln, or New York? Was Brown previously telling the story that the Raiders changed their game plan at the last minute, and not saying the words "Callahan" and "sabotage?"
I don't know, but it's a story now and will be until we hear from a lot more of the people involved — including Bill Callahan. And more than the statement he released Tuesday night.