Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.
Barret Robbins' disappearance before Super Bowl XXXVII is one that has many layers. There are many parties to blame for the All-Pro center winding up in Tijuana, Mexico the night before the biggest game of his life.
It's a story about mental illness, a culture that cared only about winning and the dangers of misdiagnosis. Surely, all of those played a role in the Robbins saga. But former Raiders receiver and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tim Brown lays the blame for Robbins' mental break at the feet of one man in particular: Bill Callahan.
Just days before the Raiders were set to face their old boss Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in San Diego, Callahan decides to drastically alter the entire game plan.
"Monday morning, we get a booklet that says ‘Game Plan To A Championship,' " Brown said in an interview for NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered" podcast on Robbins' disappearance that was released Thursday.
"He said, 'I think we can run the ball on these guys. We have to establish the run,' " Lincoln Kennedy said of the initial game plan. "That was his report: We have to establish the run. And I'm like: 'Ok. Let's do it. It's natural. They're smaller up front than us.'"
The Raiders' game plan went from running it down the Bucs' throat to throwing it 60 times through the air with only two days to prepare.
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For a team to have a great week of practice, and then get an entirely new game plan to learn and perfect just days prior to the biggest game of the season was something almost no one could believe.
"It was a shocker to everybody," Rod Woodson said. "I know for me, I just couldn't believe it. I dropped my book in the meeting when he said it. I know in my 17 years of playing, even in the preseason you don't do that."
While every member of the Silver and Black was stunned, Robbins was the one it impacted the most. Brown believes the new game plan was devastating for Robbins.
"The guy who this is going to affect the most is Barret Robbins," Brown said. "Because Barret Robbins is the one who has to make all the calls. He is begging Callahan, 'Don't do this, I don't have time to prepare for this. Please don't do this.' I was with him, and he's begging him, 'You can't do this to me.' 'No, this is what we are going to do. This is what we are going to do.' Well, it's that night that Barret went out and went AWOL -- that night. Now, does one have to do with another? I say yes. You may say no. I say yes."
After the sudden game plan change, Brown and the Raiders knew their title dreams were over.
"So we go into the Super Bowl knowing that we don't have a chance to win," Brown said.
That Friday, Robbins partied all day and night in San Diego and then he did the same in Tijuana the next day. Robbins made it back to San Diego, where defensive back Calvin Branch found him crying in a cab Saturday night. Branch tried to sneak Robbins back into the team hotel and into the lineup for the biggest game of their lives, but his plan was foiled.
Robbins was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after, when he was sent to the Betty Ford Clinic in Riverside.
While all of the blame can't be laid at Callahan's feet, it's possible the last-second change in game plan had a huge impact on Robbins' mental state and led to his absence from the Raiders' disappointing loss to Gruden in the Super Bowl.