Barrett Robbins

Why Tim Brown blames Bill Callahan for Barret Robbins missing Super Bowl

Why Tim Brown blames Bill Callahan for Barret Robbins missing Super Bowl

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.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

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."

[RELATED: The real reason Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII]

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.

How Calvin Branch got inebriated Barret Robbins back to Raiders hotel

How Calvin Branch got inebriated Barret Robbins back to Raiders hotel

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.

Raiders defensive back Calvin Branch ran into teammate Barret Robbins at a San Diego bar for the second night in a row. That in itself wasn’t particularly odd.

The practice week heading into Super Bowl XXXVII was over, leaving more free time for players to enjoy the festive atmosphere leading up to the biggest game of their lives. It wasn’t particularly late on that Saturday, well before curfew, so neither guy was in the wrong just for being in a massive watering hole in San Diego’s Pacific Beach neighborhood.

But one indicator told Branch that something was off.

“I don’t know where he was coming from,” Branch said on the latest episode of the Sports Uncovered Podcast: "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl."

“But he had the same stuff on that he [wore] the night before.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

That was a sign that Robbins hadn’t been home in a while. Branch recognized the oddity but didn’t dwell on it. Robbins had a reputation as a partier, so little was a surprise with the team’s Pro Bowl center in that regard.

Branch met up with some college teammates, had a few drinks and then headed outside to hail a cab back to the Raiders' team hotel. Branch then approached a taxi he thought was free, only to find out it was already occupied.

“I look in there, and it’s Barret,” Branch said. “I get in the cab and all of a sudden I hear Barret, like he’s trying to hold back tears. And I look over and he’s got tears running down his face.”

This previously unknown part of Robbins’ disappearance just before his Raiders played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVIII -- and what happened just after -- is explained in great detail in the latest episode of NBC’s Sports Uncovered Podcast series. The episode debuted Thursday morning and explains what led Robbins to miss the biggest game of his life.

He didn’t just get drunk and make a dumb mistake. There’s far more to it than that. Robbins was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental health issue that troubled him throughout his life. We explore where he could have been helped, and why he shouldn’t be blamed for the Raiders losing the Super Bowl.

He wasn’t, however, allowed to play in the championship game despite Branch’s best efforts to help him do so.

Robbins recalled that cab ride home during an archived interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa, considering it the point when the reality of his misdeeds hit home. Robbins partied all day Friday and into the night, leaving San Diego for a debaucherous outing in Tijuana that extended through Saturday until he saw Branch in Pacific Beach.

It was in that cab with Branch where Robbins finally broke down.

"I was crying,” Robbins said. “I was in bad shape, man. I was so sad at that point. I knew it was going to end up leading me to not be able to play in the Super Bowl and, you know, live my dream.”

Branch wanted to make one last attempt to get Robbins back in the team hotel and in the lineup. He knew he couldn’t take Robbins through the lobby of a hotel loaded with team officials after he was missing in action, so he tried another way.

If he could just get Robbins to the room undetected, let him gain composure and get to the Saturday meeting, maybe the center could rebound and play.

“We drive around to the back, and there was another entrance,” Branch said. “I’m thinking, ‘Okay, as long as nobody gets on the elevator, he can get to his room and collect himself. Just get him in the elevator.' ”

Branch did exactly that, but the plan was foiled by an unexpected pick-up.

“The elevator stops, and our linebackers coach gets on, Fred Pagac,” Branch said. “I’m trying to stand between him and Barret, so he’s not really seeing what kind of emotional state he’s in, and then my floor comes up. So, I get off, and I’m not sure what happened there.”

Whatever happened the rest of that elevator ride is ultimately inconsequential. The decision already had been made that Robbins would not play in the Super Bowl.

Head coach Bill Callahan had made that decision. The team had Robbins examined by team doctors, who said he couldn’t play.

Then-Raiders general manager Bruce Allen explained what happened next.

“He was in a difficult condition in that he was cheery,” Allen said. “Most worrying of all was that he had wondered if we had won the game. … [Then] he had told me he was excited that we had won the game and he asked to catch a plane for the Pro Bowl.”

[RELATED: The real reason why Barret Robbins missed the Super Bowl]

After further examination, Raiders doctors recommended Robbins go to the hospital. In hindsight, Robbins knows it was the right call.

“The next morning, I woke up and stretched and walked with (Raiders ambassador) Willie Brown and saw the doctors and everything," Robbins said. "And if they would’ve told me I could have played, I don’t know that I could have at that point. To be honest with you, I was sick.”

Robbins was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after, when he was sent to the Betty Ford Clinic in Riverside.

“It was great -- well, not great -- but what felt good for me is it explains some of these incidents that I have had," Robbins said. "And it put a label, it put a tag on that, because it was unexplained for me.”

Why Barret Robbins mysteriously missed Raiders-Buccaneers Super Bowl

Why Barret Robbins mysteriously missed Raiders-Buccaneers Super Bowl

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.

Super Bowl week is unlike any other in sports. It’s five days of media sessions, interviews, announcements and, for the two teams, preparation. Finally, on Saturday, with game plans completed and kickoff one day away, there is time for everyone to exhale.

For Barret Robbins, the eve of Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, featuring his Raiders against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a time to get drunk.

After making 11 p.m. curfew Friday night, the Pro Bowl center climbed out of bed early Saturday and quickly began waging war within himself. He lost every battle, ultimately plummeting to such emotional depths that he was powerless to fight off his demons.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Robbins, diagnosed with depression nearly a decade earlier while attending Texas Christian University, got up early that morning, hopped into a car of men he barely knew and left the team hotel, the La Jolla Hyatt. He missed the team breakfast. His teammates were puzzled. He also missed the team’s final afternoon walk-through session.

“We jumped on the bus and waited for a bit,” right tackle Barry Sims says on the latest episode of the Sports Uncovered Podcast: "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl."

"And couldn’t find him. And it was really surreal to be out there doing walk-throughs and, you know, missing our guy. Missing our Pro Bowl center.”

The Raiders had no idea and even wondered if Robbins had been kidnapped. Team executive Bruce Allen remembers fearing for B-Robb’s life and informing the NFL, which contacted area law enforcement agencies.

Robbins was miles away, so immersed in a spree of debauchery he barely knew his name. A mountain of a man at 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, he rolled into countless bars in and around San Diego and even as far as Tijuana, Mexico, 20 miles south. He drank away the day and continued into the night and beyond. He engaged with prostitutes. He moped. He sobbed at the thought of his wife, Marisa, and their two daughters. He talked to himself and, according to some witnesses, pondered suicide.

The more he drank, the more his spirits sank. When coach Bill Callahan made last-minute changes to the game plan, abandoning the power running game to incorporate more passing, against the wishes of Robbins and many others, B-Robb felt undermined. He thrived in the power running game, and two days before the biggest game of his life it had been ditched.

It didn’t take long for Robbins to become separated from reality and completely separated from professional obligation.

“I was aware of all that, but I wasn’t,” Robbins recalls in a 2011 interview with NBC Sports Bay Area broadcaster Greg Papa, who also was the radio voice of the Raiders. “I wasn’t able to do the right things to get ... you know ... I don’t know. I just made some bad decisions, obviously.”

Robbins concedes that he’s unable to recount where he went, when he went, or even with whom he shared company. The one detail was clear even eight years later is that he spent the day drinking.

The first member of the team’s traveling party to run into B-Robb was ex-Raider Calvin Branch, who put him in a cab back to the La Jolla Hyatt. When Robbins returned to the hotel Saturday evening – after an absence of roughly 14 hours – he was incoherent, didn’t know where he was and even mumbled something about the Raiders having already won the Super Bowl.

“He had told me he was excited about that we had won the game,” Allen recalls. “And he asked to catch a plane for the Pro Bowl (in Honolulu) the next morning.

“We left the doctor (the late team doctor Robert Albo) with him, and (Albo) was concerned. And the doc was right, because Barret later told me everything he had drank and done. And I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’”

Albo quickly realized Robbins was intoxicated but didn’t know to what extent – or whether it was simply alcohol or a combination of drugs and alcohol. Head coach Bill Callahan was moved to downgrade Robbins’ game status from “questionable” to “out.” After examining Robbins that night and into the morning, Albo checked the big man into a hospital for observation.

Robbins spent Super Bowl Sunday at an undisclosed hospital. The Raiders lost the game, 48-21, and his teammates were annoyed and concerned. Some, feeling betrayed by their best lineman and the man who called out offensive assignments, were furious.

Sad as it was, Robbins was undone by mental illness, alcohol and his impaired physical condition – all of which were enhanced by the stress of the Super Bowl. A hospital bed, being monitored, was the best place for him.

The only place for him.