It's too late, of course. No matter what Tim Brown does next, even if he apologizes for saying Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan tried successfully to lose the 2003 Super Bowl to Tampa Bay, it's too late. America heard what Tim Brown said. America has decided.
And we've decided Tim Brown has lost his mind.
What else is there to think? Here you have a long-time NFL player, a guy so good he played 17 seasons and ranks among the all-time leaders in catches, yards and touchdowns, and he actually said that his coach at Oakland "sabotaged" the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII against ex-Raiders coach Jon Gruden "because Callahan and Gruden were good friends. And Callahan had a big problem with the Raiders, you know, hated the Raiders."
Tim Brown actually said that.
It's unthinkable, indefensible, possibly even libelous. Brown said one of the worst things -- short of criminal accusations -- that one competitor can say about another:
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He lost the game on purpose.
And not just any game, but the Super Bowl.
Think about this for a minute. This man, this coaching lifer named Bill Callahan, spent 25 years reaching that point -- starting as a high school assistant in 1978, moving to another high school in 1979, then going to Illinois as an unpaid graduate assistant in 1980. He spent six years at Illinois, but when head coach Mike White was fired Callahan had to start over as Northern Arizona's offensive line coach in 1987 and '88. Then Southern Illinois in 1989. Then came a break: being hired as offensive line coach at Wisconsin in 1990.
After five seasons there, Callahan moved to the NFL, coaching the offensive line for the Eagles from 1995-97 before getting his next big break, being tabbed as offensive coordinator of the Raiders in 1998. After three seasons he got the biggest break of his career, replacing Gruden when Gruden left for the Bucs, and what do you know? In Bill Callahan's first season as a head coach at any level, after scratching and clawing for a quarter century to get there, he's in the Super Bowl.
And he sabotages it?
Because he doesn't like the Raiders?
What is Tim Brown talking about? Forget saying it -- simply thinking it is ridiculous. The head coach of the Raiders sabotaged the 2003 Super Bowl because he hates the Raiders? That's the kind of absurd conspiracy theory you might find in the most rabid corners of the Internet, where people COMMUNICATE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and misspell eazy wurds and bounce their keyboard poison off each other because somehow it feels good, when you're crazy, to surround yourself with crazy.
And Jerry Rice, I have no idea what you're thinking by backing up Brown's opinion. There's friendship, and then there's this. Backing up Tim Brown's indefensible opinion -- saying, as Rice did of Callahan's thought process before Super Bowl XXXVII, "Maybe [we] should sabotage this a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one" -- is asinine.
On Wednesday, as the negative reaction to his comments mounted, Brown went on Dan Patrick's radio show and denied saying what people had heard him say days earlier.
"I have never said [Callahan] sabotaged the game," Brown told Patrick, which doesn't confuse the issue so much as make it an outright joke.
Now that the world is caving in on him -- Callahan himself put out a statement saying Brown's comments were "ludicrous and defamatory" -- Brown is playing games with words, as if saying "we all called it sabotage" and then adding "that can be my opinion" don't add up to accusing Callahan of sabotaging the game.
Next from Brown: When the word "is" actually implies "is not."
A sliver of what Brown said in his initial comments could be true, of course. He says Callahan dramatically changed the Raiders' offensive game-plan on Friday, two days before the Super Bowl, from a run-based attack to one heavy on the pass. That could be a fact. Only the Raiders know what they had been practicing that week, whether they had been game-planning to run the ball down the Bucs' throat, but the play-by-play of the game shows the Raiders did in fact throw the ball early -- their first three plays, and eight of their first nine, were designed passes.
Definitely the Raiders tried to beat the Bucs by passing. Possibly their coach changed the game plan late in the week. But no way, no how, did Callahan have the intention of losing the pinnacle game of his career.
Uglier still, Brown blames the infamous freakout of starting Raiders center Barret Robbins -- who went missing the day before the game, returned to the team incoherent and was left off the roster -- on Callahan's decision to change the game plan. Robbins was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but Brown says Callahan pushed his center over the edge.
"Don't do this to me," Brown says Robbins begged Callahan. "I don't have time to make my calls, to get my calls ready. You can't do this to me on a Friday."
Pinning that on Bill Callahan? Despicable. This whole thing is despicable, but Brown said it. My hunch is Tim Brown just talked his way out of the NFL Hall of Fame. He was a finalist last year, and he's a finalist this year. My guess: He won't make it now -- or ever. Not after throwing out this indefensible accusation. Voters will remember and they won't like it.
Brown clearly doesn't like his former coaches, starting with Marc Trestman, the offensive coordinator on that Super Bowl team who was hired last week as head coach by the Bears to the chagrin of none other than Tim Brown: "I don't want to say [this hiring] was a joke," he said, "but I just never saw Trestman as being a head coach."
That was last week. Now go back to February 2012 -- 11 months ago -- when Brown made it very clear he doesn't like Callahan. Brown told the Dallas Morning News, "I just don't think he's a good people person," and later said, "Literally, we had guys [on the Raiders] that wanted to fight him."
Brown said something else in that February 2012 interview:
"It gets to the point where you almost thought it was sabotage," Brown said, "like the guy was trying to lose his job so he can get out of there because he never wanted to be with the Raiders."
There's that word again: sabotage. Interesting word. Ironic, maybe even prophetic, given what happened this week -- when Tim Brown sabotaged himself.