Callahan denies allegations of Super Bowl XXXVII sabotage

JOSH DUBOW AP Sports Writer Published:

Associated Press

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Former Oakland coach Bill Callahan has denied allegations made by two of his former players that he "sabotaged" the Raiders in their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay 10 years ago.

Former Raiders receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice both said in recent interviews they believe Callahan undermined his own team in the Super Bowl in 2003 because of his close friendship with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden by altering the game plan less than two days before Oakland's 48-21 loss.

"While I fully understand a competitive professional football player's disappointment when a game's outcome doesn't go his team's way, I am shocked, saddened and outraged by Tim Brown's allegations and Jerry Rice's support of those allegations made through various media outlets over the last 24 hours," Callahan said Tuesday in a statement. "To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegations."

The hubbub over a game played a decade ago began Monday when Brown said on Sirius XM Radio that he believed Callahan altered the game plan because of his close ties to Gruden, the former Raiders coach who hired Callahan, and because Callahan hated the Raiders.

"We all called it sabotage, because Callahan and Gruden was good friends, and Callahan had a big problem with the Raiders, hated the Raiders, and only came because Gruden made him come," Brown said.

While many of Brown's teammates, including quarterback Rich Gannon, came to Callahan's defense on radio and Twitter on Tuesday, Rice sided with Brown that Callahan's decision to shift the game plan from a run-oriented attack to a pass-heavy offense after a week of practice was done to hurt the team.

"I was very surprised that he waited till the last second and I think a lot of the players they were surprised also so in a way maybe because he didn't like the Raiders he decided 'Hey look maybe we should sabotage just a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one,'" Rice told ESPN.

Both Rice and Brown also said the decision to alter the plan less than two days before the game might have contributed to starting center Barret Robbins leaving the team that Friday night to go party in Tijuana. Robbins missed a team meeting and walkthrough and was suspended for the game. He was hospitalized and diagnosed as bipolar.

Former Raiders offensive lineman Frank Middleton said in a phone interview that he didn't believe Callahan's change in game plan contributed to Robbins' problems or that Callahan purposely lost the game even if there were bad feelings between the coach and players.

"Callahan hated us," Middleton said. "He didn't want to see a lot of us succeed because of who we were. I do believe Callahan had bad feelings against us. But to say he threw the game, I can't say that."

Seau's family sues NFL over brain injuries

The family of Junior Seau has sued the NFL, claiming the former linebacker's suicide was the result of brain disease caused by violent hits he sustained while playing football.

The wrongful death lawsuit, filed Wednesday in California Superior Court in San Diego, blames the NFL for its "acts or omissions" that hid the dangers of repetitive blows to the head. It says Seau developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from those hits, and accuses the NFL of deliberately ignoring and concealing evidence of the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries.

Seau died at age 43 of a self-inflicted gunshot in May. He was diagnosed with CTE in tests after his death.

Saints' Sean Payton returns to work at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. -- Sean Payton has returned to work following a nearly yearlong suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty program.

The New Orleans Saints coach watched Senior Bowl practice Wednesday and planned to meet later in the day with the staff to evaluate a defense that struggled.

Payton says the challenges of rebuilding after a losing season will be painful and that his return won't guarantee an immediate return to winning.

He declined to say if he planned any changes to his coaching staff during a 45-minute session with reporters. He spoke a day after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lifted his suspension.

Payton says he and Goodell agreed not to discuss specifics when asked whether there was an organized bounty system.

Payton watched practice from the stands with Saints officials.

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