Senior writer Jon Wertheim’s (@jon_wertheim) profile on former Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell has generated a lot of conversation this week. Two years after he last played a down, he remains the most maligned figure in football and is still widely considered “the biggest washout in NFL history,” as Wertheim writes. And yet his fall is nothing new in the history of the NFL; No. 1 overall picks have been turning into busts ever since there has been a draft. (The very first pick, Jay Berwanger in 1936, never played a down in the NFL.) With that in mind, the tablet edition of this week’s issue includes hotspots on six of the most notable washouts among No. 1 overall picks in the past 50 years.
From a chair in Maysville Barber Shop in Mobile—where he goes to have his head shaved three or four times a week—JaMarcus Russell tells senior writer L. Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) his side of the story. Russell says that few people are aware of the factors that worked against him during his time with the Oakland Raiders, including:
- The death of 11 family members or friends, including uncle and father figure Ray Ray: “I went through so much no one knew about. Go to a funeral on Saturday, fly into the game on Sunday. Then I hear, ‘He doesn’t lead by example.’ Really?”
- What Russell regards as being betrayed by then coach Tom Cable: “I stuck my neck out for him. Didn’t complain when he benched me as the starter. Didn’t complain when he called the same plays five damn times. Didn’t [badmouth] him to other coaches. When the [media] asks me, I say, ‘He’s a good coach, a good guy.’ Then I hear he says I was the worst thing ever happened to the Raiders, if it weren’t for him we’d be in the playoffs?… It just got to where the game wasn’t fun for me.”
- The lack of support from his teammates: “Things weren’t going right, and it felt sometimes like everything fell back on me. 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.”
Unbeknownst to many, Russell has given generously to his hometown of Mobile. He’s paid for turkeys at Thanksgiving food drives, bought supplies and library books for local schools and uniforms for local sports teams, underwritten the renovation for his church, built ramps for wheelchair-bound residents and rewarded kids with straight A’s with bikes, MP3 players and GoPhones. Russell says: “If I do go broke, it’s going to be from providing for my neighborhood and my family.” So why isn’t his charitable work better known? “My business is my business. That’s how I prefer it. I gotta look up to God. I don’t gotta look out to no damn news cameras!”