FEINSWOG: Russell not another Shaq

The LSU-at-Tennessee game had all the elements. High stakes. Revenge.

Yet another Tennessee quarterback coming off the bench and picking LSU apart.

 

Key turnovers.

 

Frustrations for both teams.

 

Late-game drama.

 

Rallies for both teams.

 

More drama – hold-your-breath-because-it's-that-good-drama – when JaMarcus Russell found Early Doucet for just more than 8 yards on fourth-and-8 from the UT on what was assuredly LSU's last possession.

 

And then, finally for Russell, a touchdown strike to win a game on the road.

 

Russell needed that TD pass in a big way, to almost validate himself and all he's done in two magnificent seasons at the helm of LSU's offense.

 

Until that last-minutes drive, until that last-seconds score, Russell was in danger of becoming another Shaquille O'Neal.

 

Seriously. Not that that's a bad thing, but at LSU, O'Neal certainly had his shortcomings.

During his three-year college career – and trust me on this, because I was the only media person to see and cover every one of his games – O'Neal never won a game on a last shot.

 

Never.

 

As a freshman, he had some big moments but was often shadowed by Chris Jackson and Stanley Roberts.

 

As a sophomore, despite being the national player of the year, he couldn't get LSU past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

 

Then, as a junior, it seemed as if his play declined. And while all the focus remained on O'Neal, he couldn't deliver a big victory as LSU's season and his career ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Indiana, despite him hitting all 12 of his free throws.

 

Yet all the while during those three seasons you knew this man-child would go on to the NBA and have a marvelous career.

 

Fast forward to Russell, who also will go on to the NFL and have a tremendous career. He is, at 6-6 and 260, what O'Neal was at LSU, an athlete simply too good and too big and strong to fail.

 

Russell has the strongest arm I've ever seen. Heck, he might be the strongest quarterback I've ever seen. There are times – and it happened against Tennessee – where the guy trying to sack him is simply wasting his time, despite having him all wrapped up.

Yet, until Saturday, when he capped the 28-24 victory with a touchdown pass to Doucet with 9 seconds left, Russell's legacy had been left wanting.

 

In all probability, Russell will enter the NFL draft next spring. He will be a great success at the next level and be wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. But until Saturday, he hadn't delivered during a road game that had the kind of national-picture stakes that Saturday did.

 

Yes, he'd engineered great victories, especially the TD toss at Arizona State last year, but that was the first game of the year.

 

That wasn't at Auburn earlier this season when his team lost by four points. That wasn't at Florida, when his fumbled snap and untimely interceptions cost LSU the victory.

 

And it wasn't even in the first three-and-a-half quarters of Saturday's game at Tennessee, when his three interceptions kept LSU from icing the game. Twice the Tigers, ahead 21-17, had the ball and were driving but Russell threw an interception and then Dwayne Bowe fumbled, the latter leading to UT's TD that put the Vols up 24-21.

 

All of which set up that 15-play, 80-yard drive that ate up all but the last nine seconds of the game and left us praising Russell's first big-game, big-time comeback in a hostile place at a critical time.

 

Hard as it is to believe, Shaquille O'Neal could never make that claim while at LSU.

 

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Lee Feinswog is a Baton Rouge sportswriter and host of the television show Sports Monday. Reach him at (225) 926-3256 or lee@sportsbatonrouge.com.

His book, "HoopDaddy" is available at www.HoopDaddy.net.


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