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Me First! No, Me! (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday February 27, 2007 9:06AM; Updated: Tuesday February 27, 2007 4:56PM
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The top of this draft looks a lot like 1998's. That year Washington State's Ryan Leaf was the big, strong guy with a great deep arm; Tennessee's Peyton Manning was the heady passer who hadn't won the big game in college. Manning went No. 1 to the Indianapolis Colts, Leaf No. 2 to the San Diego Chargers. Nine years later Manning sits atop the football world, and Leaf is a college golf coach in West Texas. "The repercussions of this pick will last for years," said Browns general manager Phil Savage. "You're picking a flavor, basically. Brady's probably the safer pick. He's been so well-schooled in every aspect of quarterback play, and we've had three or four years to evaluate him because he's played so much college football. And people in this league respect [Notre Dame] coach Charlie Weis. They'll listen to him about Brady. Maybe there's more upside with JaMarcus because he's so physically gifted. It's a tough call."

The competition between Quinn and Russell, which started at the Sugar Bowl, extended to Athletes' Performance in Tempe, Ariz., a private workout facility where they were among 30 top draft prospects who left their campuses in January to train in isolation for their NFL auditions. The two were in different workout groups and didn't spend much time together; Quinn quickly partnered with USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett, a first-round prospect, while Russell and several other wideouts hung together.


"It's no big deal," Quinn said of the distance between the two passers in Tempe. "We just sort of had different schedules."

Russell and his uncle Ray saw it as a bigger issue. "I don't know what happened," JaMarcus said. "I'm a friendly guy. Get along with everybody. But he kept the conversations short."

"The cat [Quinn] was like 007," said Ray. "I said to JaMarcus, 'This guy got a problem with you?'"

The two were friendly enough when they met on Sunday morning in a weight room at the combine for a photo shoot, shaking hands and bumping chests in the standard athletes' embrace. When the photographer asked them to face one another, inches apart, Quinn said fetchingly to Russell, "You got such pretty eyes." They both broke up laughing.

Make no mistake -- this is a rivalry. Not between enemies, but between two players each strident in the belief that he's the best quarterback in this draft. Russell feels he was late getting the national respect he deserved; despite a 25-4 record as the Tigers' starter, he was never a serious Heisman candidate. Quinn had said he had three goals as a college football player: winning a national title, winning the Heisman and being the top pick in the draft. With the first two out the window and the third slipping away, he's doing everything in his power to convince teams that he ought to be the top pick. "I'm the most prepared player in the draft," he said last Friday, away from the crush of the combine for a few minutes. "There's not one other player who's gone through what I have -- a national TV game every week, getting every team's best shot. I want teams to know how much I love this game. I want to play football till they drag me out of the game. I want to be like Flutie or Favre."

Likewise, Russell is determined to counter those who would question his work ethic and love of football. "For people to say that, it's crazy," he said in the hotel suite. "That adds a lot of fuel to my fire."

"But you don't love the game, baby!" chided Ray Russell to his nephew.

"Yeah," said JaMarcus, shaking his head slightly, hands thrust in the pockets of his new NFL jacket. "I don't love football. We'll see about that."

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