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The Sad Tale of Jamarcus Russell

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

An SI feature reveals that Russell suffered from sleep apnea during his time in Oakland.

The Sad Tale of Jamarcus Russell

The sports world is littered with players that, for one reason or another, couldn't quite cut it in the pros when the expectations were through the roof.  These players get labeled "busts" and they get remembered for their failures.  Ryan Leaf, Kwame Brown, and Sam Bowie are just a few of these athletes whose names are mentioned in cautionary tales or "worst draft picks" lists routinely.  They were all great talents, but their careers didn't come close to what was expected based on where each was drafted. 

The most recent addition to that list, former number one overall draft pick Jamarcus Russell, flamed out after just three seasons in the NFL.  He led the LSU Tigers to the BCS Championship as a junior and was taken first overall by the Raiders in the 2007 NFL draft.  He was big, strong, and mobile.  He seemed like a can't-miss.  But sure enough, it was a miss.  He was released by the Raiders in 2010 and hasn't been near pro football since then.

SI.com's Jon Wertheim wrote a profile of Russell that is in this week's issue, and the piece reveals several details that add some explanation to his demise.  For instance, Russell was diagnosed with sleep apnea as a rookie:

During his time in Oakland, Russell's work ethic was considerably less than exemplary. Most damning were reports that he fell asleep during team meetings. "In the NFL, my first year, I had to be there at 6:30 before practice and be on the treadmill for an hour," he 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."

Wertheim also details how Russell couldn't have been dropped into a worse NFL situation than the one in Oakland:

A congenitally dysfunctional organization, the Raiders could scarcely have been a worse fit. They surrounded Russell with mediocre talent: Justin Fargas was no Marcus Allen, Ronald Curry no Tim Brown, Lane Kiffin no John Madden. The front office and coaching staff were crippled by in-fighting. The specter of Davis's wrath and eccentricity loomed over each decision. Putting Russell—whose physical prowess was offset by his lack of savvy—in an atmosphere charged with office politics, two time zones and a million cultural miles from his Gulf Coast comfort zone, spelled trouble. "There was no mentoring," laments Russell's aunt, Terry Green. Russell agrees, "Look at [Jets starter] Mark Sanchez and [veteran backup] Mark Brunell. Mark Brunell knows goddam well he ain't going to come in the game. He's there to help. I wish I'd had someone to do that."

The wounds still clearly raw, Russell can recall, word for word, entire passages of dialogue with Raiders teammates and staff. The coaches who complimented Russell (or blamed his linemen) to his face, and then ripped him behind his back. The teammates who complained of his leadership but didn't accept his offer to come to Mobile, all expenses paid, and work out with him in the off-season. "Things weren't going right, and it felt sometimes like everything fell back on me," he says. "I take some responsibility, but I was one guy... . I may have missed a throw, but I didn't give up 42 points, I didn't miss a block."

Combine all of that with Russell's poor play during those three seasons, and it's a recipe for disaster.  Wertheim's piece does a great job of shedding light on a disappointing story and it reveals many details that go overlooked when people talk about Jamarcus Russell's NFL career.  Russell can't escape all of the blame, though.  Glenn Davis at Sports Grid writes:

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.

It really is a shame that his talent has been wasted thus far and that another team given the guy another shot.  Just look at what he did against the Jets back in 2008:

I think he could still play in this league, and it would be a wonderful story if he came back somewhere and was successful.  You know he has the arm strength.  He just needs the motivation and the opportunity to help it along.  I mean, he couldn't have done worse than Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer last Sunday. 

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see Russell's former team, the Oakland Raiders, play all season long.

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