SI released a big piece by Jon Wertheim on infamous NFL bust JaMarcus Russell today. The futility of Russell’s career is almost mythical at this point, and Wertheim makes a note of saying that the reaction to Russell’s flameout features a “level of glee that verges on creepy.” And it was some kind of flameout – out of the league within three years with no sign of returning in the near future? It’s the kind of flameout that doesn’t happen by accident, but needs a lot to go wrong to make it happen.
And a lot did. And not all of it was directly due to Russell. As Wertheim notes, the Raiders were a bad situation to step into for just about anyone at the time Russell came along. Russell talks of the deaths of 11 different people close to him. And there’s a more tangible issue: sleep apnea.
“In the NFL, my first year, I had to be there at 6:30 before practice and be on the treadmill for an hour,” [Russell] says. “Then meetings come, I sit down, eat my fruit. We watch film, and maybe I got tired. Coach Flip [quarterback coach John DeFilippo] pulled me aside and said, ‘What are you doing for night life?’ I said, ‘Coach, I’m just chilling.’ He said, ‘I need to get you checked out.’ I did the sleep test, and they said I had apnea.”
For the record, Russell says that these days, the apnea is “under control.” Overall, Werheim’s piece comes off as sympathetic. The guy has good qualities. He’s given back in his hometown, in large amounts. We know he’s got talent. (Look at the second-season NFL numbers. He showed more promise in the league than people give him credit for.) Russell talks about how as “a competitor, I feel like I have unfinished business.” And yet, he’s also got perspective: “I know that the game don’t owe me a damn thing.” And because you’re probably wondering: Wertheim says that while Russell doesn’t quite look in football shape, he also doesn’t look fat.
Indeed, we came away from reading it wanting Russell to make his mark in the NFL. He’s only 26; when he says he feels like “it can’t end like this,” we feel that way too. How can the guy be a complete washout already? At the same time, we’re unconvinced he’ll actually get that opportunity. Why? Well, for all the noteworthy things Wertheim’s piece contains, here’s something it doesn’t: substantial admissions of fault by Russell.
There’s much talk about everything that went wrong, and a lot did…but much of Russell’s fate has to lie with Russell himself. Yeah, Russell showed some promise in 2008…then, the next year he got way worse. There’s a reason teams haven’t been beating down his door despite his talent. Even now, he dismisses the idea of rebuilding his profile by playing in, say, the CFL. He does have a plan to work out and take classes at LSU…but after such a dramatic downfall, will that be enough?
We still hope so. We remember what he looked like at LSU…we’d hate to see a talent like that go to waste. It would be a remarkable redemption story – we’re suckers for those. And again, those Raiders were so dysfunctional when Russell got there, it would be nice to see what he might do in a different situation. Plus, that “verges on creepy” glee Wertheim talked about: check the comment section here, for one example. There’d be some satisfaction in Russell silencing so many naysayers. But whether he can is ultimately up to him, and even after learning more about Russell’s situation, the jury’s still out.
Getty photo (by Jed Jacobsohn)