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A lawsuit from Callahan would be difficult, messy

bill-callahan-raiders-super-bowl AP

As the allegations of sabotage in Super Bowl XXXVII grew, it was only a matter of time before former Raiders coach Bill Callahan addressed them.  And address them he did, via a late-night statement suggesting that he has gotten himself lawyered up.

By uttering the “D” word (not the one that ends in “bag”), Callahan and/or whoever wrote the statement is making it clear to Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and the persons who represent their legal interests that litigation is at least being contemplated.

But while a defamation lawsuit against one or both former players would become great theater, it would entail many challenges — and cause significant collateral damage for Callahan, and possibly others.

1.  The statute of limitations against Brown possibly has expired. 

When pressed last night by Erik Kuselias of Pro Football Talk on the assertion of sabotage a decade after the game, Brown said that he has been talking about his suspicions on national television and Dallas radio for years.  Which means that, if Brown is sued, his first defense will be that Callahan waited too long to sue.

In most jurisdictions, the statute of limitations is one year.  It has been more than one year since Brown made his statements in a public setting.

I haven’t research the issue completely (which as I learned early in my legal career is standard lawyer code for “I don’t really know what I’m talking about”), so it’s entirely possible that, in whichever jurisdiction Callahan would sue, each utterance of the false statement sets the clock back to zero.

2.  The difference between fact and opinion.

If a lawsuit is filed (and if it’s determined to be within the statute of limitations), the biggest challenge will be drawing a line between fact and opinion.  False statements of fact can lead to litigation; uninformed or incorrect opinions based on actual facts are protected.

The factual assertion from Brown is that Callahan drastically changed the offensive game plan two days before Super Bowl XXXVII.  Brown’s opinion is that Callahan was trying to sabotage the Raiders.

It’s a fine line, but Brown arguably has stayed on the right side of it.  Even last night, when he was as candid as he’s ever been about his beliefs, Brown said, “I’m not necessarily saying he [changed the game plan] for that reason, but it happened.”

Rice may not have been as careful.  “For some reason — and I don’t know why — Bill Callahan did not like me,” Rice said Tuesday on ESPN. “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.’”

3.  Callahan is a public figure.

For ordinary citizens, any untrue statement of fact can provide the basis for a defamation lawsuit.  For public figures, a higher standard applies.

Callahan will have to show that Brown and Rice knew the allegations were false, or that they acted with reckless disregard to the truth or falsity of their comments.  That necessarily makes any case of defamation against a public figure like Callahan harder to prove.

In this case, it means that Brown and Rice would give detailed testimony on what they experienced that caused them to believe what they believed.  They’ll surely say that something different happened before that game than anything they’d experienced in all their years of playing football, which caused them to believe that Callahan was up to something.

Against a private citizen, that may not matter.  Against a public figure, that explanation could result in the case being tossed before it ever would be presented to a jury.

4.  Callahan would expose himself to significant criticism.

If the case goes forward, many former Raiders players and coaches will be questioned under oath.  And while they will have different perceptions and beliefs about the reasons for the decisions made and not made by Callahan, the questioning will rehash everything that happened in preparation for the game, including whether the game plan was changed and why the audibles and other terminology installed by Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden during his time as the Raiders coach wasn’t.

In other words, and as Kuselias framed the issue last night, Callahan was either corrupt or incompetent.  By proving he wasn’t corrupt, Callahan could end up shining a bright light on the notion that he is incompetent.

5.  Plenty of big names will be involved.

If it goes to trial, this lawsuit ultimately could top, from a media standpoint, every lawsuit ever filed or threatened by the late Al Davis.  The parade in and out of the courtroom would be even more impressive than the  Seinfeld finale, with guys like Rich Gannon and Tyrone Wheatley and Lincoln Kennedy and Bill Romanowski and Rod Woodson and Charles Woodson and Charlie Garner and maybe even Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski making the walk to the witness stand, along with members of the 2002 Raiders coaching staff, including current NFL head coaches Marc Trestman and Jim Harbaugh.

Jon Gruden would likely make an appearance at some point, possibly along with members of the Buccaneers defense (which had guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch), who would be able to shed light on whether or not Gruden seemed to know what was going to happen, and possibly why he knew that.

Current and former NFL head coaches like Rod Marinelli, Raheem Morris, and Mike Tomlin — all members of the 2002 Buccaneers coaching staff — also could be involved, along with former Bucs (and current Cowboys) defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

At one point during the game, Lynch told Tomlin, “Mike, every play they’ve run, we ran in practice.  It’s unreal.”

Said Tomlin in response, “I know.”

The biggest name of all could be the guy who won’t be able to directly participate.  If the game plan was indeed changed by Callahan, we continue to believe the most plausible explanation is that Callahan was ordered to do so by owner Al Davis.  It would be fitting if the outcome of the lawsuit turns on whether a jury believes that Callahan was simply following the marching orders given to him by one of the most litigious owners in sports history.

6.  What should happen next.

Though it would be fascinating to cover the litigation and any trial that would happen, the smart move in the short term would be for Brown and Rice to issue statements explaining clearly that they are merely stating their opinions, based on the facts that they experienced.

And then they should never discuss the situation publicly again.

While on one hand the issuance of statements would suggest that they fear litigation, on the other hand it would be a prudent way of both putting a bow on a story that has quickly taken on a life of its own and managing potential liability risks.

Either way, the ball is not back in Brown’s and Rice’s court.

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Peyton Manning gets $2 million bonus for winning the Super Bowl

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

As it turned out, Peyton Manning didn’t take a pay cut this season.

Although the Broncos got Manning to agree to reduce his base salary for the 2015 season from $19 million to $15 million, Manning got the Broncos to include two significant bonuses: $2 million for reaching the Super Bowl, and $2 million for winning the Super Bowl.

Manning earned the first bonus two weeks ago and the second bonus tonight, and as a result he still gets paid $19 million for the 2015 season.

The 2016 season is the final year on the five-year contract Manning signed with the Broncos as a free agent in 2012. Manning is due $19 million for 2016, although it’s unlikely that he will see any of that money, as Manning is expected to retire.

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See you on September 8


The 2015 season is over. Which means that it’s time to start thinking about the 2016 season.

The 2016 season will begin on Thursday, September 8 in Denver. And the Broncos will be hosting one of eight potential opponents: the Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Colts, Texans, Falcons, Panthers, or Patriots.

While many will be clamoring for a Super Bowl rematch, another edition of Patriots-Broncos would be the best way to start the season, with or without (without) Peyton Manning playing quarterback for the Broncos.

But here’s the main reason why the Patriots possibly won’t be picked for the game. If the NFL wins the pending appeal of Tom Brady’s suspension, he won’t be available to play in the game.

Which means both Manning and Brady could be gone for Week One, which could make the decision not a simple one. We’ll most likely learn the answer in April — and then we can start counting the days for September.

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Peyton says future can wait, “a lot of beer” comes first

Peyton Manning AP

Peyton Manning could go out on top, and just about everybody thinks he will retire.

But Manning isn’t ready to say anything about his future.

The Broncos won the Super Bowl Sunday night, but in two televised on-field interviews after the game Manning wouldn’t say if he’ll play again.

“I got some good advice from Tony Dungy, and that’s not to make an emotional decision,” Manning told CBS on the celebration podium. “I want to go kiss my wife, kiss my kids, and celebrate with my teammates. I’m going to take a lot of beer tonight.”

He’d dropped a Budweiser reference — probably one he got paid for — in a previous interview. Manning isn’t saying much and doesn’t need to.

Beer and hugs come first. His future can wait.

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Von Miller wins Super Bowl 50 MVP

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos reacts after a play in the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The story of the Broncos season was the play of their defense so it is not surprise that the story of their Super Bowl 50 victory over the Panthers was their defense as well.

Of equally little surprise is that linebacker Von Miller has been named the Most Valuable Player of the game.

Miller set up the first touchdown of the game for the Broncos when he wrestled the ball out of Cam Newton hands during a first quarter sack. The ball skittered into the end zone and Malik Jackson fell on the ball for six points.

Miller then set up their second and final touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter with another strip sack of Newton in the fourth quarter. The Panthers were trailing 16-10 at that point in the game and trying to rally for a win, but T.J. Ward recovered the fumble and C.J. Anderson plunged into the end zone to put the finishing touches on a 24-10 win.

Miller added another half-sack during the game, which is the last he’ll play for the Broncos under his current contract. A franchise tag is all but certain if the Broncos can’t work out a long-term deal with Miller before the deadline, something that might be tough because Miller’s going to want mountains of money before putting his name on the dotted line.

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Broncos defense throttles Panthers to win Super Bowl 50

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

Peyton Manning — assuming he’s going out — is going out in style.

He’s also going out without having to do all that much.

The Broncos quarterback got his perfect finish, leading his team to a 24-10 win over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, though it was a dominant defense that did the hard work.

The Broncos harassed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton throughout the night, sacking him six times, forcing three turnovers and limiting him to something far less than the kind of MVP performances he’s turned in all year.

That meant all Manning had to do was not mess it up and enjoy the moment. Even a pair of turnovers weren’t enough to spoil things, as the five-time Most Valuable Player won his second Super Bowl title.

The Broncos didn’t score an offensive touchdown until the game was well-decided, a late touchdown run by C.J. Anderson, Manning did throw a two-point conversion, a coda for a wonderful career which wasn’t reflected in anything else he did the rest of the night.

Manning finished the game a meager 13-of-23 passing for 141 yards, allowing others to carry him to a title. But while it was similar in theme to John Elway’s get-out-of-the-way-and-hand-it-to-Terrell-Davis strategy to win a pair of Super Bowl titles to end his career, many quarterbacks could have won this game.

For the Panthers, the loss unravels a storybook season, which included a 14-0 start, a single loss and plowing through the NFC playoffs with relative ease.

But their lack of dependable pass-catching targets came back to haunt them, as Jerricho Cotchery and Ted Ginn were plagued by drops, which is unusual for Cotchery. The Panthers were able to cover up the loss of Kelvin Benjamin to a training camp ACL for the entire season, but struggled to get anyone open throughout the night.

That included tight end Greg Olsen, who was not much of a factor throughout the night, thanks to a Broncos defense designed to take him out (with cornerback Aqib Talib often in coverage).

The Panthers also made numerous special teams miscues, from a missed field goal to allowing a 64-yard punt return when it appeared they thought Jordan Norwood had called for a fair catch.

Those mistakes were too much to overcome, regardless of who was quarterbacking the other team.

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Von Miller forces Cam Newton fumble, Broncos extend lead

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

Von Miller appears to be closing in on the Super Bowl 50 MVP award.

Miller hit Cam Newton to force a fumble with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, and when the Broncos recovered they had the ball in goal-to-go territory. With help from a defensive holding penalty on Josh Norman, the Broncos’ offense scored its first touchdown to take a 22-10 lead. A Peyton Manning two-point conversion pass to Bennie Fowler made the Broncos’ lead 24-10.

It’s been a sensational game for Miller, who set up the game’s first touchdown with another strip-sack of Newton. Miller has two and a half sacks and two forced fumbles.

And it’s been a rough game for Newton, the regular-season MVP who has not played well today in the Super Bowl. He was the best player in the NFL this season, but Miller has been the best player on the field today.

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Marshawn Lynch tweet suggests he’s going to retire

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 20:  Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks runs the ball against  Nick Perry #53 of the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter in their game at Lambeau Field on September 20, 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

If you’re into reading way too much into tweets from athletes, then Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch may have just given a pretty substantial indication about his plans for 2016.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider is under the impression Lynch is considering retirement. Former teammate Michael Robinson said this week it’s “fair to assume” Lynch has played his final game in Seattle and Lynch himself is reportedly telling people he intends to retire as well.

So Lynch’s tweet Sunday showing a picture of a pair of shoes hanging from telephone line with a “peace” emoji could be as much of an official announcement as we’d ever expect to see from him.

Lynch played in just seven regular season games and rushed for only 417 yards and one three touchdowns this season for Seattle. He’s scheduled to make $9 million next season, which seems to be an untenable amount for the Seahawks to bring him back next season.

So Lynch may very well be retiring. Or he could be announcing a new shoe he plans to release at his apparel store. With Lynch, you never truly know.

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Graham Gano 39-yard field goal closes Broncos lead to 16-10

Carolina Panthers’ Graham Gano (9) misses a field goal during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) AP

The Carolina Panthers managed to turn a Peyton Manning fumble into points to make Super Bowl 50 a one-score game with 10:21 remaining.

Graham Gano’s 39-yard field goal closed the Denver Broncos lead to 16-10 in the fourth quarter.

Manning was sacked and stripped by Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy to give Carolina the ball at midfield. A 16-yard pass to Devin Funchess and 12-yard run by Jonathan Stewart moves the Panthers into the Denver red zone, but a third down pass from Cam Newton to Ted Ginn fell incomplete and Carolina had to settle for the field goal.

If the Panthers are able to rally, they’ll have to do it without receiver Corey Brown, who is out for the remainder of the game with a concussion. Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett is also out with a concussion.

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Peyton Manning fumble gives Panthers a glimmer of hope

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

A Peyton Manning fourth-quarter fumble has given the Panthers a glimmer of hope.

With Denver leading 16-7 and driving into Panthers territory, Manning dropped back to pass on third-and-long and was hit by Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy, knocking the ball loose. Carolina’s Charles Johnson recovered.

Ealy now has three sacks, tying Reggie White Darnell Dockett for the most in Super Bowl history. If the Panthers can come back and win, Ealy will be a strong MVP candidate.

And Manning now has two turnovers. The Broncos can’t afford a third.

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Another turnover ends promising Panthers drive with no points

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

The Panthers have driven into Broncos territory twice in the third quarter of Super Bowl 50, but they have no points to show for the efforts.

Cam Newton was intercepted by T.J. Ward at the Denver 10-yard-line on a pass that went off Ted Ginn’s hands. Ward fumbled on the return — no surprise in this sloppy affair — but Danny Trevathan fell on the ball to ensure the Broncos would retain possession.

The Panthers got the ball downfield thanks to a 42-yard completion to Philly Brown, who jumped between Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to snag a Newton pass inside Denver territory. Brown banged his head on the grass when coming down with the ball and is now being evaluated for a concussion.

It’s the third turnover of the day for the Panthers and the second credited to Newton, who also fumbled on a Von Miller sack in the first quarter. Malik Jackson fell on that ball for the only Denver touchdown of the game and the Panthers have been playing from behind all day.

They haven’t been able to gain any ground thanks to their constant miscues, however, and the Broncos added to their lead with a Brandon McManus field goal earlier in the third. They couldn’t add any more points after the interception, but still lead 16-7 with 3:12 to play in the third quarter.

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Brandon McManus 30-yard field goal extends Broncos lead to 16-7

Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning (18) throws during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) AP

After Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano clanked a 44-yard attempt off the right upright, the Denver Broncos drove for a field goal of their own to extend their lead.

Peyton Manning hit Emmanuel Sanders for 25 yards and 22 yards as the Broncos moved into the Carolina red zone. But Denver wouldn’t get any closer and had to settle for a 30-yard field from Brandon McManus that gave the Broncos a 16-7 lead with 8:18 left to play.

The three points could prove critical as it’s made it a two-score game with Carolina having to mount a rally against the league’s top-ranked defense.

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Graham Gano misses field goal, Broncos still up six

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 12: Graham Gano #9 of the Carolina Panthers kicks a field goal held by Brad Nortman #8 in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 12, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers had a hard time generating big plays on offense during the first half of Super Bowl 50, but they finally hit one on the second play of the third quarter.

Cam Newton found Ted Ginn across the middle of the field and Ginn turned the catch into a 45-yard gain that stands as the longest play of the game for either team. That moved the Panthers into Broncos territory and another Ginn catch gave them a first down after an ill-advised Trai Turner personal foul, but the drive ended without points when Graham Gano clanged a 44-yard field goal try off the right upright.

Gano’s field goal came after officials picked up a flag that appeared to be against Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby for holding on the opposite side of the field from where Newton threw an incomplete pass to Greg Olsen. If the flag stood, it would have been a first down that kept the drive alive. It also looked like Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib may have been offside on the field goal attempt.

Neither penalty was called, though, and the Panthers still trail by six with 10:48 to play in the third.

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Broncos lead 13-7 after bizarre first half of Super Bowl 50

When we envisioned the league’s best defense playing the league’s highest-scoring offense, we didn’t expect this.

Super Bowl 50 has taken a number of strange turns, with the turnovers preventing it from having any kind of organic flow.

The Panthers and Broncos combined for three turnovers, with Carolina’s 2-1 edge in that category translating to a 13-7 Broncos lead at halftime.

It’s one thing for the Panthers to be nervous in this setting, but the Broncos’ offering was a young player’s mistake by quarterback Peyton Manning, when he was picked off by Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy.

But it wasn’t enough to overcome the sack-fumble-touchdown by the Broncos early, and Mike Tolbert’s attempt to make a statement play but losing the ball.

The Broncos can’t afford to make many more mistakes, as they’re playing clutch-and-grab and hoping defense and special teams is enough to get them by. They have just four first downs in the first half, and Manning’s averaging 4.8 yards per pass attempt.

And that will be fine, as long as the Panthers continue to make mistakes, and waste chances like they did with their end-of-half clock management.

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Mike Tolbert fumble leads to Peyton Manning pick

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

Late in a sloppy second quarter of Super Bowl 50, the Panthers and Broncos traded turnovers.

Panthers running back Mike Tolbert fumbled to set up the Broncos’ offense, and a C.J. Anderson run brought Denver into field goal range. But Peyton Manning threw an ugly interception right into the hands of Kony Ealy to waste a good opportunity.

Neither offense has played particularly well so far in the game, and that trade of turnovers epitomized what a defensive struggle this has been.

The Broncos’ offense hasn’t found the end zone yet, but Denver still has a 13-7 lead.

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Jordan Norwood sets SB record for punt return, Broncos lead 13-7

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 17:   Jordan Norwood #11 of the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on September 17, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Panthers appeared to think Jordan Norwood called for a fair catch as their coverage team bore down on him in the second quarter of Super Bowl 50, but Norwood never gave the signal.

He caught the ball, bounced off Panthers safety Colin Jones and sprinted 61 yards before Mario Addison ran him down on the Panthers’ 14-yard-line. It’s the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, knocking John Taylor’s 45-yarder against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII to second place.

The Broncos offense, which has sputtered since opening the game with a long drive, couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. C.J. Anderson converted a fourth-and-one, but it came with the help of a hold by guard Louis Vasquez that pushed the Broncos back 10 yards and forced them to settle for a Brandon McManus field goal.

It’s the latest in a series of costly penalties against the Broncos, who could be up by a wider margin if they weren’t shooting themselves in the foot in the first half.

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