The bizarre controversy over whether former Raiders coach Bill Callahan sabotaged the team before Super Bowl XXXVII by changing the game plan at the last minute has taken another surprising turn: Jerry Rice has come forward to say he sides with his former teammate Tim Brown in believing that Callahan wanted to lose.
Rice, who was on the Raiders team that lost Super Bowl XXXVII to the Buccaneers, said on ESPN that Callahan disliked his players, disliked his team, and was willing to let his old boss, then-Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, beat him.
“For some reason — and I don’t know why — Bill Callahan did not like me,” Rice said. “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.’”
For Rice, a universally respected player who was named in a poll of experts conducted by NFL Network as the greatest player in NFL history, to say that he believes one of his former coaches actively wanted to lose a Super Bowl is shocking. ESPN’s Trey Wingo stopped Rice and asked him if he realized the magnitude of the accusation that Callahan once threw the Super Bowl. Rice said he understands the weight of his words.
“Yeah, I know exactly what I’m saying,” Rice said.
Until Brown made his bombshell accusation on Saturday, the biggest controversy to come out of Super Bowl XXXVII was the fact that Raiders center Barret Robbins abandoned the team the day before the game. Rice blames Callahan for that, too: According to Rice, Robbins was so demoralized by Callahan announcing in a team meeting that he was going to call mostly pass plays that Robbins decided to bail on the Super Bowl.
“With Barret, he was frustrated, like, ‘You cannot do this to us at the last second.’ Maybe that’s why he decided to not show up,” Rice said.
I have all the respect in the world for Jerry Rice, but blaming Callahan for Robbins’ actions is ridiculous. Robbins is a man who has struggled with mental illness for most of his life. A man who struggles with mental illness is battling demons much more profound than a coach changing his game plan. Does Rice also blame Callahan for the legal and personal problems that have plagued Robbins in the decade since his NFL career ended?
Rice also doesn’t seem to accurately remember how that Super Bowl went down. In his ESPN appearance, Rice said Callahan called on the Raiders “to throw the ball over 60 times.” But the Raiders didn’t throw the ball 60 times or even 50 times. They threw 44 times — exactly three more times than they had thrown the ball the week before, when they won the AFC Championship Game.
And that brings us to the strangest part of all this criticism of Callahan: Brown and Rice are insisting that Callahan sabotaged the team by implementing a pass-first offensive game plan. But the Raiders had been a passing team all season: They led the NFL in passing yards that season while ranking 18th in the league in rushing yards and 23rd in the league in rushing attempts. In other words, Callahan called a lot of passes in the Super Bowl because it was calling a lot of passes that had led them to the Super Bowl in the first place.
For Brown and Rice to suggest that Callahan was throwing the Super Bowl because he continued to call a lot of passes just as he had all season long is absolutely ridiculous.