JaMarcus Russell And The Tale of the Blank DVD

JaMarcus Russell is looking to stage an NFL comeback. (Getty Images)

JaMarcus Russell is looking to stage an NFL comeback. (Getty Images)

If there’s a reason to root for JaMarcus Russell as he works out for the Bears on Friday, or at any other time the No. 1 draft pick of 2007 attempts to move his comeback forward, the Tale of the Blank DVD would appear to be the leader.

Rich Eisen retold the story Thursday on an NFL.com podcast, attributing the information to Warren Sapp, who spent his final season in the NFL with the Raiders just as Russell began his career in Oakland. According to Eisen, Sapp said a Raiders coach had given the young Russell a DVD loaded with plays and ideas to take home overnight and critique. The following day, the story goes, Russell brought the DVD back and said he was on board with everything he’d watched.

Here’s the punchline of the story: The DVD was blank.

Taken at face value, the anecdote seems to indict Russell’s work ethic pretty thoroughly (though his work on the field ultimately convicted him and caused him to be cut). Viewed in context, it speaks to the Raiders’ petty infighting and propensity for self-sabotage. The story also rings a little too familiar.

Randall Cunningham faced a similar accusation, adjusted for his era’s technological limitations.  Sid Gillman, hired as a quarterback consultant for the Eagles early in Cunningham’s career, reportedly slipped a piece of paper in a reel of film he asked Cunningham to study. When the quarterback returned the film, the story goes, the paper remained lodged in place.

Clearly, something was plagiarized here, either the idea of busting a young player on indolence charges or the account of the Russell bust, fiction or non. In either case, if the coaches ran sting operations and then squealed, they weren’t exactly nurturing their protégés.

Neither tale has included the obvious follow-up: Did the coaches confront the player and, if so, to what effect? The whole point seems to be the smearing of a player’s reputation and the exoneration of coaching staffs that struggled to get the most out of young – and not coincidentally, African-American — quarterbacks.

Russell entered Oakland in its “Game of Thrones Lite’’ phase. Al Davis had decreed Russell the crown prince, while coach Lane Kiffin connived to fill the throne with understudy peasants like Josh McCown, at least until he could find an heir who suited his tastes.

Davis gave away the palace intrigue via overhead projector in 2008, displaying the note that dispatched Kiffin, telling him: “I do realize that you did not want us to draft JaMarcus Russell. He’s a great player. Get over it, and coach this team on the field.’’

Right or wrong on Russell, Kiffin devoted more energy to rebelling against Davis about the young quarterback than he did to following a coach’s fundamental mandate: putting players in a position to succeed. His successor, Tom Cable, passive-aggressively pursued the same agenda. Russell ate and underperformed his way out of the NFL, but he also got caught up in a melodrama that would have ruined many young quarterbacks.

Likewise, Cunningham was never properly coached in Philadelphia over an extended period of time. Buddy Ryan, in particular, thought defenses controlled games and quarterbacks broke them down on single plays, not with a smart, carefully orchestrated attack. He expected the explosive Cunningham to detonate defenses, not manage the offense.

But Cunningham’s flawed 11-year career with the Eagles was a spectacular success compared with Russell’s three seasons in Oakland. It seems inconceivable that, even with reported 50-pound weight loss and a Jeff Garcia-orchestrated makeover, he could achieve the kind of vindication Cunningham found with the Vikings in 1998. It’s certainly not clear that Russell deserves another chance more than Trent Edwards or Jordan Palmer, who are also auditioning to be placed on Chicago’s call-in-an-emergency list.

But if he does succeed, that story of the blank DVD will take on a more appropriate meaning, as a reflection of how little his Oakland coaches had to offer.

13 thoughts on “JaMarcus Russell And The Tale of the Blank DVD

  1. Pingback: Expecting a BIG comeback - NSBets

  2. Definitely no racial undertones to the apocryphal blank DVD/film reel story. None at all.

    I’d say I’m embarrassed for Rich Eisen but he’s pretty much beyond shame anyway.

    • So you would have preferred a story about Ryan Leaf and Jeff George getting blank DVDs and film reels?

      It was Warren Sapp’s story you goof, you sound like one of the libtards who is so against racism that it is all they can talk about.

      • “It was Warren Sapp’s story you goof, you sound like one of the libtards who is so against racism that it is all they can talk about”

        Who are still nowhere near as bad as conservatives who are absolutely obsessed with proving that “everyone is racist” (especially “libtards”) to the point that they waste time on random comment sections.

  3. While I am in complete agreement w/the main thrust of the article, I take issue with the description of Cunningham’s “flawed 11-year career with the Eagles.” I’m no Eagles fan, but watched his play, and evaluated his numbers, from the late 80s – mid 90s. The guy was machine; derailed only by injuries. He was as good (if not better) in ’88-’92 as he was w/the Vikes.

  4. Randall Cunningham did not have a “flawed” career in Philly. I watched him and his Eagles beat my Saints in the 1993 wildcard playoff in New Orleans 36-20. It is something that is embedded in my memory. I got to watch #12 play for the Eagles and he was an awesome football player. The EAGLES had a “flawed” coaching staff.

  5. As a lifelong Eagles’ fan, flawed is the best way to describe Cunningham’s career. Tragic would be good as well.

    In a wildcard loss at home against the Rams, the Rams used a “spy” to keep Cunningham from running. Instead of trying to counter this advantage, Ryan just spat out “It was a high-school play.” It was a high school play that beat a seasoned professional NFL coach.

    But I think Fans and the Media are too quick to blame the players exclusively for their failings. We’ve all been in work situations where the bosses didn’t know what they were doing and while the individual workers may be competent the chaos in management caused the workers to become demoralized, sloppy and uncaring. Why won’t we give this same consideration for professional athletes?

  6. “struggled to get the most out of young – and not coincidentally, African-American — quarterbacks.”

    I’m curious what this is based on. I’m not saying it is wrong, but how do we know it is not a coincidence?

    If this happened to two black QBs on the SAME team, then OK. If this happened to lots of black QBs on lots of teams, then OK. But this was two quarterbacks in two different situations, that may have just happened to be black.

    Again, maybe it was because they were black. But making this quick leap to racism is nearly as damaging as the people that are so quick to dismiss obvious racism as the overreactions of the PC police.

    • Knapp wrote for a SF Bay Area newspaper, therefore by employment contract, she had to be left-wing. Probably still is.
      Since this is an article that discusses minority athletes, racism has to be brought up, at least briefly.
      Why wasn’t Chris Kluwe at least mentioned in this article?

  7. Any chance anyone can get to call up the Race card and dance it around like a trick pony they take it. You are talking about TWO different athletes, different coasts, different time frame but it must be racist because two black people were involved. Right? smh. How about it was just typical Rookie hazing that happens on ALL teams, or maybe it was to see if he actually watched it as he was reported to not do his homework coming out of college? No can’t be that. Has to be racist! Always has to be about race, which is funny in a league dominated by African Americans we still STILL have to make everything about race. SMFH. Lets not lay the ball at the feet of the problem so to speak and RIGHTLY accuse the player of just being lazy and not motivated despite banking almost 40mil for nothing, no no has to be that his coaches of whom some were black themselves were just seething racists out to do the kid harm. I feel no remorse for a kid who the first thing he did was get a bazillion dollar necklace of himself made before he had even won a game on the field, nor do i feel any remorse for a guy who is now broke expects the world to feel sorry for him, and ignore that he squandered 40 mil in less than 10 years. White or Black, an idiot is an idiot plain and simple, you blow that kind of money and do nothing with all that god given talent, youre an idiot.

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