On Deck: Russell in the Wind

Russell dropped 50 pounds before his tryout with the Chicago Bears.
Russell dropped 50 pounds before his tryout with the Chicago Bears.

By Will Martin

Every once in a blue moon we come across a feel-good story where you hope someone finds the road back to redemption through a way of life, a passion or labor of love that was once within their grasp. Life sometimes throws a curve or humanity being as it is we sometimes think a situation is a given and the road ahead will be easy.

Lord, we love it when a troubled soul does good on a second chance. Former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner felt that way when going the route of Father Flanagan with players fighting demons like Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, even a Steve Howe. What did Steve get, nine chances?

What about the case of an individual like football’s JaMarcus Russell, who despite getting the high draft pick and the market amount of draft pay has been a complete bust? Yes, names like Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Heath Shuler, Tony Mandarich, Ryan Leaf, Quincy Carter, and Lawrence Phillips come to mind. Then comes a name that makes many a fan roll their eyes and mutter, ‘again?’

It was reported recently that ‘numerous teams’ were interested in the possibility of giving onetime Louisiana State University/Oakland Raiders quarterback a look-see as to what he can do. It seems he has shed some 50 pounds and returned to his playing weight of 265 after being more scaled at the 315-320 mark for some time.

Russell hasn’t seen much of anything since the 2009 season. You may recall that the Tiger was the first overall pick of the 2007 National Football League draft by the Oakland Raiders. In three seasons he compiled a total of 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, and a career passer rating of 65.2. He rushed for 175 yards and completed only 52 percent of all passes attempted.

Talk to the Raider nation and they will no doubt respond in kind with the same kind of disdain as the people of Dallas have for Lamar Odom. A waste of potential, not motivated to do better, not able to adjust to the speed of the NFL much less read defenses, a $39 million waste of an investment.

Now he wants to attempt a comeback after three years away? Is he broke? Is there a good support in place for Russell this time around? Is he completely clear from whatever problems plagued him at the time of his ‘Purple Drank’ incident? Will any team in the NFL really give him a chance?

My guess is no. This to me is nothing more than an agent tossing mud onto the wall and seeing what sticks, especially when it was further revealed that Russell wants to ‘join a team and sit on the bench while learning from an established starter.’

That in theory sounds pretty good but…does the average fan want to hear that? To paraphrase a one-time agent for Terrell Owens, ‘We can think of 39 million reasons why JaMarcus Rusell should not get a chance in the NFL.’

NFL.com has reported that ‘numerous teams have shown significant interest’ in Russell’s availability. Much like the numerous UFO or Sasquatch sightings or D.B. Cooper’s great escape, the tale grows larger by the elapsed days, months and years.

Have you ever noticed how an empty tin can with a pebble inside can make a lot of noise? Yet, you are still aware that the tin can is indeed very empty with nothing to offer. Being proven wrong always is a challenge I welcome.

Based on all that I have read and said it is this writer’s humble opinion that what lies ahead for Russell will require a trip above the border to the Canadian Football League where the footprints of Vince Ferragamo (Montreal Alouettes), Warren Moon (Edmonton Eskimos), even a Joe Theismann (Toronto Argonauts) can be found.

The game and the rules are different there. To quote a classic Sinatra tune, ‘If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere!’ Two solid years under the wing of the CFL may be exactly what Russell needs to remember the reasons why he needs to be absolutely clear about his intentions to play football again. In a sport where the average lifespan is a little over three years, it could be said that since football is the ultimate team sport many a teammate were let down by a perception of a lack of work ethic or wanting to get better.

Weight loss is an amazing thing. Society is indeed forgiving if indeed the intent and the effort is there. Like Chicken Little, proclaim a fallen sky once too many and you will fall on deaf ears.

Having said that, it takes a lot of moxie and discipline to drop 50 pounds. Many things change including outlook, confidence, goals, dreams, inspirations, and being a good role model. From this standpoint may JaMarcus Russell truly be in his element, True Poultry In Motion.