NFL draft failures meet box-office busts
AP Photo/Mark LennihanRyan Leaf and “Ishtar” have become synonymous with failure, unmet expectations and colossal wastes of money.
The 2012 NFL draft begins Thursday night, which means it’s time to settle in and watch hopeful kids in their first expensive suit; crying mothers, fathers and girlfriends; sweaty, sleep-deprived scouts; Mel Kiper; and Mel Kiper’s hair (so glorious.)
It’s also time to trot out the annual list of draft-day failures. All weekend GMs and scouts will be crossing their fingers and hoping their picks won’t join the likes of Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Mike Williams and the men on this list, five of the biggest busts in NFL history. Because the NFL draft now has the kind of production and marketing budget usually reserved for feature films, I decided to pair these football flops with their corresponding box-office busts.
From futuristic nightclub comedies to purple drank-drinking washouts, enjoy this list of famous failures on the big screen and on the field.
5. Vernon Gholston vs. “The Adventures of Pluto Nash”:
What’s tougher to stomach: a sci-fi mafia comedy set on the moon in the year 2080, or a first-round defensive end failing to record a single sack in the NFL? If you’re the Jets, who drafted Ohio State standout Vernon Gholston with the No. 6 overall pick in 2008, it’s clearly the latter.
Gholston is the only defensive end drafted in the top 10 to fail to get a sack since the league began officially tracking the stat in 1982. Since he entered the league in 2008, 617 players have recorded at least one sack and 649 have at least a half-sack, including 117 undrafted players. Gholston would have collected a $9 million bonus from the Jets if he had simply recorded one sack, caused one fumble, recovered one fumble OR caught one interception. He did none of those things in three seasons with the team.
Gholston was an out-of-this-world flop, as incomprehensibly bad as the 2002 atrocity “The Adventures of Pluto Nash.”
In the film, Eddie Murphy runs Club Pluto, a popular nightclub on the moon (which apparently looks a lot like Vegas in the early 2000s). When the club gets blown to smithereens, Pluto Nash sets out to find the arsonists. Sounds like a laugh a minute, right? And I haven’t even gotten to the robots and clones yet! The movie, with a reported $100 million production budget and another $20 million marketing cost, made just over $4.4 million domestically and $7.1 million worldwide.
Murphy has bounced back with a handful of moneymaking family films, but Gholston hasn’t played a regular-season snap since 2010. He was a football supernova whose fiery NFL demise will always be remembered as infinitely bigger and brighter than any success he had in college. He’s the black hole of draft busts, a hulking mass from which nothing, not even a single measly sack, can escape.
4. Tony Mandarich vs. “Waterworld”:
Picking 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive lineman Tony Mandarich was a no-brainer for the Packers in 1989. A game-changing force at Michigan State, he went No. 2 overall, after Troy Aikman and before Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Deion Sanders and Andre Rison.
Jeff Zelevansky/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesThe money quarterback JaMarcus Russell got from the Raiders went to his head and some combination of snacks as he ballooned to 300 pounds and won just seven of 25 starts in three years with the team.
Mandarich held out until just before the start of the regular season, finally agreeing to a four-year, $4.4 million contract, and then spent most of his rookie year on special teams. After a few seasons of mediocrity, the Packers cut ties with him in 1992 and he spent two years out of the league, addicted to drugs and alcohol. He later admitted to extensive steroid use in college and an addiction to painkillers while with the Packers.
Mandarich will always be remembered as a massive bust, just like the 1995 film “Waterworld.” Kevin Costner produced and starred in the $175 million venture, set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world mostly covered in water. “Waterworld” may be thought of as a bust but, for it and Mandarich, the label may not be entirely accurate.
The Costner flick actually made money, getting a lift from $175 million in overseas dollars and home video and cable sales. The relatively weak domestic grosses and bad word-of-mouth gave the film its reputation as a bust, but it eventually ended up making it out of the red.
Mandarich will always be remembered as a bust for Green Bay, but after entering rehab in 1995, he actually returned to the NFL, clean and sober. He was picked up by the Colts in 1996, and while he wasn’t outstanding, he spent three solid years in Indianapolis, even starting all 16 games in 1997. Some will always consider him a washout, but just like “Waterworld,” he managed to come out above water.
3. Charles Rogers vs. “Cutthroat Island”:
The Lions selected wide receiver Charles Rogers with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, just one year after another major bust, quarterback Joey Harrington. The Michigan State standout was plagued by injuries early in his NFL career, breaking his collarbone twice and sitting out most of his first two seasons. In 2005, he missed four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and by season’s end he was out of the league.
Rogers played in just 15 games, making 36 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns in his brief NFL career. He has since been arrested on a number of occasions for drug- and alcohol-related offenses and was ordered to return $6.1 million of his $9.1 million signing bonus to the Lions after a 2005 drug suspension was deemed a violation of the terms of his rookie contract. Just a few weeks ago, things got even darker for the troubled Rogers, as police allege he threatened to kill his mother if she didn’t repay a $100,000 loan.
Rogers was one of three terrible draft picks by the Lions in the early 2000s, all of whom contributed to the worst decade for a team in NFL history. The 1995 pirate movie “Cutthroat Island” was the Charles Rogers to Carolco Pictures’ Detroit Lions. The $115 million flop is considered the biggest box-office bust of all time, losing over $100 million and bankrupting Carolco Pictures.
Thankfully for Detroit fans, it’s tougher to sink an NFL team than a movie studio.
2. JaMarcus Russell vs. “Gigli”:
Right from the start quarterback JaMarcus Russell proved he was less about getting it done in the pocket and more about what was filling his pockets. After being selected first overall by the Raiders in 2007, Russell held out for all of training camp until he was given a $61 million deal, with $32 million guaranteed.
The money went to his head, and some combination of snacks — cupcakes and mac ‘n cheese, I’m guessing — went everywhere else. He ballooned to 300 pounds and turned off teammates and fans with a work ethic that left much to be desired. Russell was released in May 2010 after winning just seven of 25 starts and amassing 2,083 passing yards, 18 touchdown passes and 23 picks.
Russell’s NFL career started with an ugly holdout, just as the release of 2003?s mob comedy “Gigli” was delayed by a lengthy battle between the studio and director Martin Brest. Russell seemed like a sure thing coming out of LSU, while the stars of “Gigli” (then real-life loves) Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck promised to have incredible on-screen chemistry. Russell was released after just three years in the league, while “Gigli” was yanked from theaters after only three weeks.
Unlike Russell, neither Affleck nor Lopez has been arrested for possession of codeine syrup (aka “purple drank”), but “Gigli,” like Russell’s tenure with the Raiders, was all sizzle and no steak — a flashy, overhyped, bloated disappointment.
1. Ryan Leaf vs. “Ishtar”:
For years the name Ryan Leaf has been synonymous with bust. The Chargers selected the Washington State product with the second pick in the 1998 draft, just after the Colts selected fellow quarterback Peyton Manning. San Diego inked Leaf to a four-year contract worth $31.25 million, including a guaranteed $11.25 million signing bonus. In return, he gave them four wins in three years as a starter.
Leaf bounced around a few teams before retiring at age 26 with 14 career touchdowns, 36 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 50.0. To make matters worse, Leaf’s bust status has taken on another meaning recently, as he was busted for burglary, theft and drug possession on two separate occasions just a few weeks ago.
“Ishtar,” 1987?s ill-fated desert tale, is the Ryan Leaf of box-office busts. A $55 million mess, “Ishtar” features Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as talentless lounge singers who book a gig in Morocco but somehow end up embroiled in a political scandal in the mythical land of Ishtar. The movie grossed just over $14 million worldwide and is widely considered to be one of the biggest flops of all time. At the time of its release, Roger Ebert said of the film, “It’s not funny, it’s not smart and it’s interesting only in the way a traffic accident is interesting.”
Decades after its release, “Ishtar” is still the butt of many a joke, sharing the same cult bust status that Leaf has enjoyed. Both have become associated with failure, unmet expectations and colossal wastes of money.