Breaking Down the Bill Callahan Super Bowl XXXVII Conspiracy Theory

Jerry Rice and Bill Callahan
Jerry Rice and Bill Callahan

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I’m always intrigued by a conspiracy theory, but most of the time the story doesn’t lead anywhere. With former Raiders’ receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice claiming that coach Bill Callahan threw the Super Bowl against the Buccaneers in 2003, the story certainly has credible sources, but I’m skeptical that the fix was really in.

First of all, a coach only has so much control over the events on the field. Even though Callahan changed the game plan so close to the Super Bowl, the players ultimately bore the responsibility of the results. If the Bucs knew what was coming only because Callahan called plays that Jon Gruden expected, then a simple audible by Rich Gannon could have done the trick. In fact, Gannon denies the allegations, as does offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy.

More likely, Gruden knew the Raiders so well that he coached his defense to recognize tendencies and diagnose plays quickly. It might not have mattered what Callahan called, so changing the game plan isn’t a very effective form of sabotage.

Aside from the effectiveness of changing the game plan, there is a real lack of a motive to throw the game. Even if Callahan hated the Raiders’ organization and wanted to help out his friend Gruden, it wouldn’t be worth the personal sacrifice. The financial, social, and emotional gains from winning the Super Bowl far outweigh settling a grudge.

Suppose a lawyer hates the firm he works for and goes to a marquee trial against a former coworker. If the lawyer wins the case, he’ll have the leverage to work for any of the top firms at a higher salary and win the respect of his peers. If he loses, he could be stuck in his middling circumstances for a long time, while his old coworker moves on to glory. Who would take that deal? Yet that’s essentially what Brown accused Callahan of doing.

I don’t think Brown and Rice are liars, though. I think they are mistaken. They are two of the best receivers ever, and they played on a team that was expected to win. The pain of losing made them search for an explanation to ease their burden. That’s why conspiracy theories gain traction…people come up with theories to explain the unexplainable, cope with tragedy, or to fit events into their own worldview. So perhaps in the minds of Brown and Rice, they see Callahan as sabotaging the game because that’s easier to accept than saying the Raiders were just out coached and outplayed.

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