John F. Russell: Playing the name game, hoping for fame

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— I’ve never played basketball, I’ve never been a member of the Buffalo Bills practice squad, and I've never played on or managed a Major League Baseball team.

I’ve always dreamed about what it would be like to be an MLB player, but sadly, that dream never came true.

But thanks to the people at Google, I’ve been able to track down a number of successful athletes who share my name and have given me, or at least my name, a few moments in the spotlight. It’s almost like making it to the big leagues myself — just without the fame and fortune.

Isn’t Google great?

Thanks to the Internet, I don’t have to dream about seeing my name printed in headlines. Instead, I almost can sense what it would be like to be among the minority of people in our country who have a shot at playing a professional sport.

I’ve never played — probably based on my total lack of athletic ability — but that didn’t stop me from going online to check out the lives of the athletes who have had the name Russell printed on the back of their jerseys.

There was John “Honey” Russell, who was an American basketball player who stepped onto the court for some 3,200 games during his career. He may have played in more pro games than anyone else in history. He won championships in the American Basketball League with the Cleveland Rosenblums and the New York Jewels. Russell also played or coached a number of other teams and was the first coach of the NBA’s Boston Celtics.

Pretty cool, huh?

Truth is that I might never have heard about this great player if I had not Goggled my name the other day. He was born 64 years before me, and he died in 1973, when I thought basketball was a way to fill the final 15 minutes of recess at my elementary school.

Google also introduced me to a much younger John Russell who is working his way into the NFL as a linebacker with the Buffalo Bills practice squad. We might share the same name, but at 5-foot-8 and 160-pounds, there is no chance anybody will mistake me for an NLF, college or even a high school linebacker.

According the Wikipedia, the linebacker still doesn’t have a regular season appearance, but I’m holding out hope that he will promote the John Russell brand in the next few years.

I’ve always dreamed of playing professional baseball, but at 45, I’m pretty sure my chances of playing shortstop, or even being a bat boy, for the Yankees has long since passed.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my name on a baseball card. There are a couple of major league players who share my name, including John William Russell, a former catcher and outfielder who played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers. He managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2008 to 2010 and has worked as a coach for Pittsurgh and Baltimore.

My co-workers posted a enlarged copy of his baseball card on my desk. I guess it’s supposed to be some kind of joke, but I'm the one who's smiling. I wonder how many of them have their names on a baseball card?

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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