Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan's 'dumbest team in America' rant sealed his Raiders fate

Bill Callahan's 'dumbest team in America' rant sealed his Raiders fate

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.

The Raiders were in the midst of a championship window when Jon Gruden got traded to Tampa Bay during the 2002 offseason. It was a shock to the locker room to be sure.

Gruden was beloved in the locker room, someone who cared about his players and took the Raiders from the AFC depths to the Super Bowl.

Raiders players didn’t care about future draft haul, even if it came in the massive sum of two first-round draft picks and two more in the second round. The $8 million went in owner Al Davis’ pocket, not theirs.

Losing Gruden was a real blow.

“When you lost Gruden, you lost a guy that, as a player, I would stop a bullet for,” former Raiders offensive lineman Mo Collins said in NBC Sports' latest episode of the “Sports Uncovered” documentary podcast. “I mean, that’s how much I want to play for Gruden. You knew that, when things got hot, he had your back.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The Raiders promoted offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to replace Gruden, and it didn’t go well despite reaching Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden’s Buccaneers walloped the Raiders 48-21.

The Raiders never recovered from that loss. They fell on hard times during the 2003 season under Callahan, finishing with a 4-12 record that was the worst by a team that was in the Super Bowl the year before.

Callahan's fate was sealed after a Nov. 30, 2003 loss after a mistake-riddled loss to Denver when he called the Raiders the “dumbest team in America in terms of playing the game,” in an epic postgame rant.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa, former longtime voice of the Raiders and an Al Davis confidant, said that was the last straw.

“Al was seething,” Papa said of the longtime owner. “You don’t call his team dumb. That was it. He was done.”

Callahan was fired at season’s end, proving the selection didn’t work. It looked good at first, considering how bad the players wanted continuity.

They didn’t want a major setback to follow the Gruden trade, so team leaders Lincoln Kennedy, Tim Brown, Rich Gannon and Charlie Garner went to Davis to find a replacement on the current coaching staff.

“We said, ‘Look, we have to hire from within because we have a good thing going,’ ” Kennedy said. “Knowing this, another coach is going to bring in a different philosophy and we take two steps back. We were right on the cusp of doing something. I think he took our word for it.”

Davis apparently agreed with his players -- whether or not that talk swayed him is unknown -- promoting Callahan to head coach.

While veteran leaders wanted continuity, some didn’t like the ultimate selection. Brown remains vocal in his disappointment in the hire, saying on “Sports Uncovered” that Callahan was the worst thing that happened to the Raiders organization.

“Callahan didn’t care about us,” Brown said. “He could care less about us. It was a job for him. With Gruden there were relationships there.”

That didn’t stop the Raiders from reaching the Super Bowl in Callahan's first season as head coach. Several interviewed for NBC Sports' podcast blamed Callahan for losing the Super Bowl to Gruden’s new team, but there were ultimately several factors at play.

That included the disappearance of center Barret Robbins during Super Bowl week, which led to him not playing in the game and is the primary focus of the latest Sports Uncovered episode.

[RELATED: Party culture led to Robbins' downfall]

What happened in that Super Bowl ultimately impacted what happened with Callahan the following year.

“When we lost to [Tampa Bay in the 2002 season], it was to Jon Gruden and this West Coast offense, which [Al Davis] didn’t like," Papa said. "He loved Bill Walsh but he didn’t like the offense. He lost to Monte Kiffin and the Tampa 2 defense and he didn’t like that.

“So the next year in training camp, we completely changed the offense. And it was more of an Al Davis vertical passing, down-the-field team, but it did not suit Rich Gannon’s skills. It did not suit a 40-year old Jerry Rice and a mid-to-late 30s Tim Brown. It just didn’t fit what we had. There’s no question that Al wanted that done. But where Callahan lost everything is when he had that epic rant after one of those losses where he said, ‘we’re the dumbest team in America.’”

Tim Brown rips Bill Callahan as 'worst thing' to happen to Raiders

Tim Brown rips Bill Callahan as 'worst thing' to happen to Raiders

Tim Brown and Bill Callahan probably won't be making plans to go out the brunch anytime soon.

The Pro Football Hall of Famer has been a vocal critic of his former coach for a long time. He blames Callahan and his last-second game plan change as the reason Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins disappeared prior to Super Bowl XXXVII. As far as Brown is concerned, the Raiders would have been better off if Callahan never coached the Silver and Black.

"I think this guy was probably the worst thing that ever happened to the Raiders organization," Brown said on NBC Sports' Sports Uncovered podcast, which details Robbins' Super Bowl disappearance.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Callahan's attitude and the way he dealt with players rubbed a number of Raiders the wrong way.

"The way he handled his guys, the way he talked to men, the way he approached, and the lack of respect that he had for men, people had an issue with him," Anthony Dorsett said.

It wasn't just the struggles of a first-year coach, though. Brown says he and other Raiders tried to get Jon Gruden to cut Callahan loose while the latter was offensive coordinator.

"We tried to get Callahan fired in '98 and '99," Brown recalled. "He walked off the field twice. At the middle fourth quarter of games that we should've won, we weren't winning. 'You guys don't want to win here. I don't know why I came here.' Walked off the field. Went to Gruden, Gruden went, 'Hey, guy's emotional, whatever.' Did the same thing in '99. and we went to him again. We said, 'You got to fire this guy. We can't have a coach walk off in the middle of the game on us.' And Gruden wouldn't fire him. So from that standpoint on, we understood that Callahan was in a seperate category."

When Gruden was traded prior to the 2002 season, a number of players went to owner Al Davis to ask him to hire Callahan, believing they were on the cusp of greatness following the heartbreaking loss in the "Tuck Rule Game" the year before.

But the differences between Gruden and Callahan were stark, and things with the Raiders changed.

"Dudes would play for Gru," Dorsett said. "Dudes would play for Gru. They love him, you know what I'm saying? When Callahan became the coach we played for each other.

"When he addressed the team as head coach, he was like, 'I don't need any more friends. So, that's not what I'm worried about here."

It was clear almost immediately to Brown that this wasn't the right call.

"Callahan didn't care about us," Brown said. "He could care less about us. It was a job for him. WIth Gruden, there were relationships there."

[RELATED: Would Raiders have won Super Bowl if Robbins played?]

Despite the lack of connection with Callahan, the Raiders steamrolled through the regular season and into the Super Bowl, where Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were waiting.

The Raiders, filled with swagger, thought the title was theirs. But a confluence of events, including Robbins' disappearance and Callahan's decision to change the game plan on Friday, left them shellshocked entering Qualcomm Stadium.

The Bucs were ready for everything the Raiders threw at them, and some members of the Silver and Black swear Gruden knew what plays were coming.

The 48-21 demolition by the Bucs led some to charge Callahan with purposefully handing his former boss a title.

"We have guys on the sideline at the Super Bowl, who are trying to get the head coach," Brown said. "Guys who want to fight him, at the Super Bowl. On the sideline. In the locker room. That's all anybody was talking about. 'This is sabotage, Callahan. You did this for Gruden!' "

Callahan has denied the accusations. He was fired after the following season when the Raiders posted a 4-12 record.

Was it sabotage? Doubtful. But it's clear Callahan was in over his head from Day 1 as the leader of the Silver and Black.

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.