Webster's World

The run-up to any Super Bowl is filled with crazy stories. Always has been. Always will be. It is the nature of the beast. The game is such an over-hyped event, it is impossible not to have all sorts of wild rumours circulating, some of which even turn out to be true.

And frequently, the truth about the ones that really were true doesn’t emerge until a long time after the fans have all gone home and the host city has returned to normal.

However, 10 years is an awfully long time to keep something under you hat and that is what had me gasping in disbelief at Tim Brown’s outburst this week over what he reckons happened as the Oakland Raiders were prepping for Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.

Brown made a suggestion this week – one which could easily come back to bite him in a court of law – that his head coach at the time, Bill Callahan, had deliberately lost the Super Bowl because he was good friends with Buccaneers head coach, Jon Gruden, and wanted him to win.

Putting aside the fact that Tampa Bay would have beaten any team in the league that day, and putting aside the fact that Tampa Bay could have beaten the Raiders just with their defense that day, Brown’s claim is so bizarre as to make you wonder what planet he is on. He talked about the Raiders game plan being changed at the last minute and called that sabotage, before saying that it is difficult to say Callahan sabotaged it because he’s got no proof. Good luck with defence in court, Tim.

Brown said: “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.”

Then Brown claimed it was all switched two days before the game from a run-based attack to a passing one.

He added: “We all called it sabotage…because Callahan and 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. That’s hard to say, because you can’t prove it.”

Which bit of all that do you suppose Tim Brown failed to understand? Look at his quotes again. He says the players all called it sabotage. He says Callahan hated the Raiders. Then he says it’s hard to say the guy sabotaged the Super Bowl.

No, Tim, that is exactly what you just implied and trying to qualify it does not get you off the hook. You have just trashed the guy’s reputation. I mean, torn it to shreds and dumped it in the street. And, by your own admission, without any proof. And not only that, but 10 years after it happened.

First of all, I find it really difficult to believe that anyone, especially a head coach, is capable of deliberately throwing a Super Bowl. And I would say that even if he didn’t particularly like his employers or his fellow workers. And I would still say it even if he was good friends with the opposition head coach, which Callahan was with Jon Gruden because Gruden took him to the Raiders in the first place.

But as a head coach, as a professional, as a man, you would want to win it for yourself and your own pride even if for nobody or nothing else. Are we to believe that one of the Harbaugh brothers might chuck this year’s Super Bowl because they want to do something nice for their sibling?

Callahan certainly had a reputation for not being an easy bloke to get along with while he was at the Raiders and people are entitled to hold and express opinions about other people and events. That is what free speech and opinion columns are about.

But you can’t use that as a vehicle or a disguise to level an accusation so despicable as to call into question a man’s honour and reputation when you admit in the same breath that you have no evidence to support such a claim.

Brown worked with Callahan and has every right to say what he thought of him. He can say that Callahan was bad-tempered or boorish or rude or incompetent as a coach. He has the professional qualification to express that as an observation and an opinion if he so desires.

But this is different. This is accusing a man of doing something immoral, of cheating the NFL and its fans, of breaking a strict code of sporting conduct and ethics, and if you want to do that Tim, you should bring an army of evidence with you.

If I were Bill Callahan I would be seeing my lawyers this morning and starting to discuss payback for an outrageous slur because absent any cold hard facts, that is exactly what it is. I suspect Tim Brown is about to be asked to front up or shut up.

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Talking of opinions, how about Terrell Suggs on the Patriots?

Moments after sending the crowd at Gillette Stadium home full of disappointment and cancelled travel plans to New Orleans, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker ripped into the opposition as he left the field on Sunday night.

“They’re a bunch of arrogant pricks and it starts from Belichick on down.” He then suggested the Patriots should have a good time at the Pro Bowl, while the Ravens would be getting ready for the proper game, the Super Bowl.

There is a lot of emotion pumping in the short time between finishing a game and leaving the field, and in those moments, some of that emotion pours out. It was for that reason many years ago that the NFL made the 10-minute rule, allowing media into the locker rooms but only after 10 minutes had elapsed so that some of the raw edge had come off the emotion of both winning and losing.

Some people will put Suggs’ comments down to that hyped-up emotional state, especially as this wasn’t just any old game but the AFC Championship Game against the highly-favoured New England Patriots but I suspect it was more than just emotion. I reckon that is genuinely how Suggs and a few of his teammates felt about the much-lauded Patriots.

They have been highly-talked-of for many years because they have been able to back it up with playoff wins and Super Bowl titles. What Suggs and the Ravens need to do now is to go down to New Orleans and finish the job, and prove to America that they really do have bragging rights. Otherwise, all that he will be remembered for this season is a bitter rant at the end of one game.

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Last week at Old Trafford, a sheepish website operator for Manchester United’s official site had no option but to issue an apology in the press box for an easy-to-do yet monumental screw-up.

About two hours before United kicked off their FA Cup third round replay against West Ham, the website was already advertising ticket details for the fourth round after their previous evening’s win over West Ham. Oops.

I am sure for many of us, there will be a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God go I…’. Obviously, he was trying to get a jump on things and had prepared the story in advance, ready to go up if and when United won. Still, it was an error and nobody else was to blame other than the guy who had pressed the button to post. It was hurriedly removed once spotted although not before various newspapers had already got a picture of it.

A few days later, I really felt for whoever was responsible for tracking the San Francisco-Atlanta NFC Championship Game on NFL.com because something went disastrously wrong at the worst possible moment.

Anybody who was following the game online on the play-by-play tracker would have known that Frank Gore gave the 49ers the lead with 8:23 to play but that would be the last they would hear from NFL.com before San Francisco were in the locker room and packing their bags for New Orleans.

After repeated attempts to manually refresh a site that automatically updates, readers were informed that there was a problem with the data feed from the Georgia Dome. That was the last update for the rest of the game.

I can only imagine how blue the air was turned by the people who were trying to salvage the day and get the live feed back. It may not be the televised coverage being blacked out by a storm or a power surge but you have to feel for whoever it was who had to explain to his boss why the league’s own site could not provide any live information for the closing drama of the NFC Championship Game.

Of all the days that could happen, there is only one that could be any worse. I presume the NFL.com staff will be taking all sorts of extra precautions and I wish them a quiet night in New Orleans. You wouldn’t wish that kind of bad luck on your worst enemy.

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The search for intelligent NFL life in the UK goes on.

As talk continues to gather pace about what should happen next with the International Series, over whether or not Britain could legitimately play host to a full-time franchise, or even if Wembley is a viable and appropriate site for a Super Bowl, it seems to me we are frequently confronted still by reminders of just little the sport is ingrained in our culture.

Sky Sports News, in its never-ending quest to add glamour to its presentation desk, now has Olivia Godfrey reciting the day’s events and breaking news in her rather grating, cutie-pie, baby-doll style.

Following New England’s divisional playoff round win over Houston, Ms Godfrey appeared on screen to tell us how the “Pates” reached the Championship Game.

If presenters on the country’s leading dedicated-sports network – one that has the bulk of the NFL contract in this country - are serving up that kind of ignorant rubbish, then we truly have a long way to go. I could just imagine some visiting American choking on his breakfast over that and thinking ‘this is the country where some think an NFL franchise could prosper?!’.

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