The great ones make it look easy. And so we bid a fond farewell to JaMarcus Russell, who in little more than three calendar years established himself as the most despised, unproductive, disinterested, uncommitted, overpaid, unmotivated, scandalously inept bust of an athlete ever to hang a shingle in the Bay Area.
His time here ended Thursday when the Oakland Raiders released the would-be franchise quarterback after paying him $39 million for three seasons (at $13 million per), seven wins ($5.6 million per) in 25 starts ($1.56 million per), 18 touchdowns ($2.17 million per), 23 interceptions (a bargain at $1.7 million per) and the kind of memories money can't buy.
He was a flaming disappointment at every turn, from the contract impasse that lasted one game into his rookie season, to the glacial improvement during his second year, to his disastrous 2009, to the practices he loafed through and the meetings he slept through or blew off entirely.
Along the way, he embodied the traits of nearly every athlete who might stake a claim to the Bay Area Hall of Infamy — raising the bar in every case.
Raging disinterest? One-time Warriors center Joe Barry Carroll has been the longtime local standard-bearer. He made it clear through more than six seasons here — not to mention the season he blew off the Warriors to play in Italy — that there was a limit to his emotional investment in the team and its place in the standings. Fans loathed him for his attitude, but at least he produced (averaging more than 20 points per game for four seasons), if not to the level expected of the first pick in the draft.
Randy Moss quit on the Raiders early in his second — and final — season with the team. Former Oakland A's Manager Tony La Russa once described Rickey Henderson as being "mentally unavailable" for a game. San Francisco Giant Derrel Thomas repaired to the players parking lot to wash his car during a game. And the Raiders have a history of players with questionable motors.
Russell, however, makes the aforementioned look like zealots. On a recent ESPN report, former Raiders Dominic Rhodes and Jon Ritchie related, from personal experience and anecdotally, how Russell would nod off during team meetings. He clearly never considered fitness a priority. He blew off the Raiders' final team meeting of the 2009 season so he could fly to Las Vegas. His ambivalence was breathtaking.
Appalling lack of aptitude? Chris Washburn had no shortage of demons when he was selected by the Warriors with the third pick in the 1986 NBA draft. He was young, immature, undisciplined and, as was discovered later, had a substance-abuse problem. But to watch him play was to wonder if he'd ever seen a basketball before.
He had no instincts for the game. He'd forget a play from the time it took to walk from the bench to the free-throw line. He would play just 72 NBA games, averaging 3.1 points.
Quarterback Jim Druckenmiller, a first-round pick by the 49ers in 1997, never came close to getting it. In two years, he played in six games, throwing 52 passes and achieving a 29.2 passer rating.
They were superachievers next to Russell, who made the same mistakes repeatedly — holding the ball too long, holding it too low, throwing inaccurately, throwing late across the middle. At times it was a small victory if he could get the team out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage.
Expectation vs. reality? We've known our share of athletes who didn't live up to the hype. In 1978 the 49ers traded a stash of draft choices for native son O.J. Simpson, only to discover he was a one-legged running back at that point. In 1995, they jumped up to take receiver J.J. Stokes with the 10th pick in the draft the way they had once jumped up to grab Jerry Rice. Suffice to say Stokes was no Rice redux.
A's pitcher Todd Van Poppel, the Warriors' Mike Dunleavy and the 49ers' Earl Cooper were all touted as the next great thing when they were drafted. Much was expected of Ray Sadecki, Sam McDowell, Dan Pastorini and Ruben Sierra given that they were received in trade for Bay Area greats Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, Ken Stabler and Jose Canseco.
None of the above matched promise with production. Russell makes them look like ring of honor candidates.
Money thrown down the rat hole? This isn't even a discussion. Russell was paid Powerball money for three years none of us will ever get back. Good work if you can get it.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.