It starts with expectations. Unrealistic expectations.
The new quarterback arrives to rose petals and a symphony, the old quarterback is tossed out with apple cores and moldy lettuce, and life will once again be splendid.
That's what Jason Campbell is experiencing right now, and while the thrill of being desired by the starved football fandom of Oakland, Calif., ("They like me! They really like me!") must feel absolutely euphoric, the inevitable -- and time-honored -- fall to earth will sting like the worst yellow jacket attack known to man.
Why, you ask, do I say "inevitable"? Because we have been down this road before.
At his absolute best, when receivers run precise routes and the halfback duties are manned by a 1,500-yard machine and the offensive linemen all play like Tony Boselli (vintage 1996), Campbell can be an eminently mediocre NFL quarterback. He has a nice arm and good command of the huddle, and throws the deep ball better than some, worse than others. As any Redskins fan will tell you (and tell you. And tell you. And tell you), Campbell's greatest flaw is his Gingrich-esque conservative approach to the position. Washington's coaches and players desperately wanted him to air it out; to hit Santana Moss with a 50-yard bomb down the sideline; to take a shot. But he usually wouldn't -- or couldn't.
Hence, in an ideal world a guy like Campbell is holding a clipboard, watching Peyton Manning or Tom Brady from the sideline while finishing off the occasional blowout.
Yet thanks to the three years of hell otherwise known as The JaMarcus Russell Era, Campbell is being hailed as the Raiders' savior; a man owner Al Davis has actually compared to the legendary Jim Plunkett.
If the narrative sounds even vaguely familiar, well, it should. Time after time after time, OK quarterbacks have been acquired with unjust fanfare, only to fall short. How did Neil O'Donnell do after signing that five-year, $25 million deal with the Jets in 1996? How about Scott Mitchell coming to Detroit in 1994 with a three-year, $11 million contract? (Note: Defenders of Mitchell will cite his excellent '95 campaign, when he tossed 32 touchdowns. Detractors of Mitchell will cite, ahem, the rest of his career).
Perhaps the quarterback who endured the most Campbell-like path to doom was a man named Jack Thompson, aka "The Throwin' Samoan." Like Campbell, the 25th pick of the 2005 NFL Draft, Thompson came to professional football accompanied by high expectations. Selected third by Cincinnati in the 1979 Draft, Thompson -- a prolific passer at Washington State -- was immediately deemed Ken Anderson's heir apparent with the Bengals. In four years with the team, however, he started five games, failing to adjust to the speed and complexity of a higher level.
When Tampa Bay quarterback Doug Williams threatened to jump to the fledgling United States Football League leading up to the 1983 season, the Buccaneers offered the Bengals their first pick in the ensuing draft for Thompson.
They didn't have to ask twice.
As predicted, Williams became an Oklahoma Outlaw. Thompson was immediately hailed by the Tampa brass as everything their old starter had been -- and infinitely more. According to the Bucs, Thompson had a stronger arm, better decision-making abilities, enhanced mobility, a faster release. So what if he struggled to beat out (egad) Jerry Golsteyn in training camp? Nobody's perfect.
As is the case with Campbell, Thompson was an ideal backup who could have possibly been a marginal starter alongside a strong supporting cast. But Tampa Bay's offensive personnel was dreadful. Save for halfback James Wilder (who had yet to enter his prime) and the receivers Gerald Carter and Kevin House, the Bucs were an ode to misery. They ranked second to last in the league in rushing, and their line allowed a whopping 49 sacks. That Thompson threw for 2,906 yards and 18 touchdowns was a minor miracle.
By the time the 2-14 travesty had ended, however, it was clear Thompson's days as an NFL starter were numbered. He was replaced by Steve DeBerg the following season, and out of the league by 1985.
Can Jason Campbell avoid a similar plight?
Odds are against it.