Welcome to the first edition of the "I Remember" series. I was recently reading an article on Bleacher Report about "Should-Have-Beens." This got me thinking about Darrell Russell, a former number two overall pick in the NFL Draft, whose off-field drug problems greatly overshadowed his career.
Russell died in a car accident at the age of 29, but showed signs of greatness while he was still on this Earth.
Russell received scholarships to many universities, but wound up at USC. He was one of the top recruits in the nation in 2003. A cornerstone for the USC defense, he was a finalist for the Lombardi award as College Football's best Defensive-Linemen or Linebacker in 1996.
Russell was taken second overall in the 1997 NFL Draft. He played in all 16 of the Raiders' games, starting the final ten of the season and recording three-and-a-half sacks as a rookie.
Thanks to his stellar performance, Russell was bumped up to a starting position in 1998. In the best season of his career, he recorded ten sacks, and forced a fumble. His accomplishments led him to be selected to the Pro Bowl.
Russell made the Pro-Bowl yet again in 1999, recording nine-and-a-half sacks, and forcing a fumble.
Russell, who many expected to be a dominant force on the line in 2000, had an off year, with only three sacks, but also recorded a safety.
Prior to the 2001 season, Russell tested positive for ecstasy. He was suspended for the first four games of the season, but still had a respectable season for only 12 appearances. Russell recorded two-and-a-half sacks, 41 tackles, and an interception.
After the 2001 season, Russell tested positive for drugs yet again. He was suspended for the whole 2002 season, which caused the Raiders to cut the two-time Pro-Bowler.
In 2002, Russell was accused of videotaping the rape of a woman. Due to lack of evidence, the charges were later dropped, but the damage was done. Despite the NFL's decision to suspend Russell indefinitely, he was picked up by the Washington Redskins.
Russell played in only eight games for the Redskins in 2003, totaling eight tackles. The Redskins decided to cut him after one year.
The Broncos showed interest and picked him up for training camp in 2004, but Russell was cut yet again when the roster was trimmed to 56 players.
Then, the hammer fell; Russell tested positive for drugs for the final time in 2004. The NFL suspended him indefinitely, and this time, no team was willing to take a chance on him.
On December 15, 2005, Russell was a passenger in a 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix driven by close friend and ex-teammate Michael Bastianelli, when it veered out of control, careening off of a tree and a fire hydrant before hitting a parked bus. Both men were found unconscious and taken to area hospitals, where they were pronounced dead.
After his death, many teammates recounted old memories with their fallen friend. They recounted the sacks, the smack, the wins. As the old saying goes: "Lost Forever, Never Forgotten."
Rest in Peace, Darrell.