Nebraska football fans tend to block out the four seasons Bill Callahan was leading the team in Lincoln. In those four years, Nebraska missed out on bowl games twice and were on the wrong end of some terrible scores. Under Callahan, Nebraska fans saw the Scarlet and Cream lose to Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Missouri and Kansas. Most Children of the Corn were quite relieved when they saw the back of Bill Callahan after the 2007 season.
So there was no shortage of schadenfreude in the Cornhusker state when soon-to-be Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown accused Callahan, according to ProFootballTalk.com, of “sabotaging” the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. Brown was quoted as saying the following:
We get our game plan for victory on Monday, and the game plan says we’re gonna run the ball. We averaged 340 [pounds] on the offensive line, they averaged 280 [on the defensive line]. We’re all happy with that, everybody is excited. [We] tell Charlie Garner, “Look, you’re not gonna get too many carries, but at the end of the day we’re gonna get a victory. Tyrone Wheatley, Zack Crockett, let’s get ready to blow this thing up.”
We all called it sabotage . . . because Callahan and [Tampa Bay coach Jon] Gruden were good friends, And Callahan had a big problem with the Raiders, you know, hated the Raiders. You know, only came because Gruden made him come. Literally walked off the field on us a couple of times during the season when he first got there, the first couple years. So really he had become someone who was part of the staff but we just didn’t pay him any attention. Gruden leaves, he becomes the head coach. . . . It’s hard to say that the guy sabotaged the Super Bowl. You know, can you really say that? That can be my opinion, but I can’t say for a fact that that’s what his plan was, to sabotage the Super Bowl. He hated the Raiders so much that he would sabotage the Super Bowl so his friend can win the Super Bowl. That’s hard to say, because you can’t prove it.
But the facts are what they are, that less than 36 hours before the game we changed our game plan. And we go into that game absolutely knowing that we have no shot. That the only shot we had if Tampa Bay didn’t show up.
For some reason — and I don’t know why — Bill Callahan did not like me. 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."
Callahan, now the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, strongly denied Brown’s claims. In a prepared statement (as reprinted by the Lincoln Journal-Star), Callahan said:
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 twenty-four hours. To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegations.
There is no doubt that Brown and Rice are NFL legends. But there’s also little doubt that the case against Callahan is pretty threadbare. While others can pick apart whether a competitor like Callahan would pass up the chance to carve his name into history by winning the Super Bowl, followers of Nebraska football have a unique insight into how Brown’s argument doesn’t hold water.
Brown’s basic allegation is that leading up to the Super Bowl, the Raiders were planning to use their dominant offensive line to run the ball at the smaller Buccaneers defense. But shortly before the game, Callahan changes the game plan to a pass-heavy offense. This, according to Brown and supported by Rice, is evidence (along with Callahan’s hatred of the Raiders) that Callahan intentionally threw the Super Bowl.
If that’s the case, Callahan must have had the same type of feeling about Nebraska. For example, take a look at the Nebraska-Iowa State game in 2004. Calling a pass-heavy offense when you have an advantage in the running game is evidence of sabotage? Then apparently it was sabotage to have Joe Dailey throw the ball 43 times(!) compared to only 35 rushing attempts in Nebraska’s 34-27 loss to the Cyclones.
How about later that season? Nebraska came into the final game of the 2004 season against Colorado at 5-5, needing a win to keep its streak of 35 consecutive bowl appearances alive. In the game, Nebraska ran the ball 23 times and threw it 55 times(!!) in Nebraska’s 26-20 loss to the Buffaloes, putting the final nail in the coffin of NU’s bowl streak.
Is that evidence that Callahan was trying to sabotage Nebraska in his first season at the helm? Of course not. (Put away your tinfoil hats, Huskers fans.) It’s evidence of what the Children of the Corn later learned about Callahan—that he is a man supremely confident in his offense and his ability to call plays. Remember, he was the guy who said when he arrived in Lincoln that (as reprinted by Corn Nation) “[w]e don’t take what the defenses give us, we take what we want.” He was the guy in 2007 who (again, as reprinted by Corn Nation) told Nebraska fans that he couldn't explain adjustments made during another NU loss because it would be "too technical for you."
Of course, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. That fine line is generally called “success,” and Callahan enjoyed precious little of that in Lincoln and in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Brown has, according to CBSSports.com, backed off his claims of sabotage. But Nebraska fans who spent four years watching Callahan know the truth. Occam’s razor states that the simplest answer to a question is usually the correct one. In Callahan’s case, arrogance is a much simpler explanation to his play-calling in Super Bowl XXXVII.
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