The Bust is the thing, right? Every summer, each new inductee to Canton stands up and strolls across the stage, eager to get that first glimpse of himself, see his likeness immortalized. That little bronze totem is the validation for everything that’s led to that point in his life.

But there’s a flip side. There’s the other bust, the lowercase version, the four-letter word reserved for those who never get to be immortalized, except in failure. It seems the word bust is tucked away in the average fan’s vocabulary, as if in a holster, waiting to be pulled out and fired at will. What the late novelist John Hawkes said about literary device applies to the sporting scene, “Failure is the only subject.”

I admit to being less than enthusiastic about trashing everyone in sight. There’s no actual skill required to do that. Then again I was never one of the cool kids who sat in the back of the classroom, cracking wise. But on the topic of failure, there are some players upon which we can all agree. Like Pacman Jones.

After the Titans made him the sixth pick of the ’05 draft, Adam “Pacman” Jones was seduced by the assorted pursuits available to any young man with loot and time on his hands. He was arrested six times and suspended for the entire 2007 season. In fact, Jones has become the cautionary tale for the young professional baller.

When he has played, Jones has been a good player, though not nearly the dominant corner and punt returner he was at West Virginia. But he never invested in his career. His day job was just something to keep him occupied until sundown. Even though Jones is still playing, I suppose it’s fair to call him a bust.

More often than not, expectations doom a career before it even begins.
Sheldon White, Vice President of Personnel for the Lions, says sometimes draft position clouds reality. “Take Big Daddy Wilkinson in Cincinnati,” says White. “He was the first pick of the (‘93) draft so people expected him to play like that. But a nose tackle isn’t ever going to get 20 sacks a year. Wilkinson had a good career, just not one people want from the first overall pick.”

So what to make of Aaron Curry?

In 2009, Curry was the fourth pick of the draft. He was labeled by people who know such things as a “safe” prospect. This was for good reason. It was Curry’s junior year at Wake Forest that sealed his status. Curry played the outside linebacker position as well as it can be played, especially against the pass. Football folks will tell you that getting a young backer to consistently drop into coverage is no small task. But Curry excelled at it. That year, he had six interceptions, three of which he took to the end zone.

Since then, Curry hasn’t been the player he was in college. Actually Curry seemed to become another person. Dave Wyman, my friend and former college teammate, who covers games for a Seattle radio station, said flatly, “Curry has no football instincts.”

Wyman recounted a game against the Giants. Eli Manning had left the pocket and was scrambling towards the sideline, drifting towards the area where Curry had dropped into coverage. A few feet in front of Curry, a Seahawks defensive lineman was closing in on Manning. With that defensive lineman in front of him, Curry didn’t have to worry about Manning running the ball. Instead of staying where he was, Curry rushed towards Manning only to have him easily lob the ball over his head.
Says Wyman, “Makes you wonder how he was so good in college.”
It’s a good question. At Wake Forest, Curry mostly played at the line of scrimmage. He got his hands on the tight end and used brute strength to stop the run. On passing plays, he dropped into coverage. Said Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz at the time, “They put him out in space, like a nickel back. Those are two almost mutually exclusive skill sets.”

But once he got to Seattle, they tried to make him a pass rusher, which he isn’t. And when he did drop into coverage, he would make strange decisions, like the play against the Giants. He finished his rookie season with two sacks, no picks, and a lot of questions.

Former Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn once told me that it seemed unfair the title of bust should be the sole province of the player. Said Sehorn, “What about the guy who drafted him? Maybe that guy put him at the wrong position or in the wrong scheme. Maybe that guy is the bust.”

After Curry was traded to the Raiders last year, he didn’t do much better. Now, tendonitis in both knees has kept him from playing at all this summer. I fully expect him to be released anytime now. When he is, all the talk of bust will commence.

That term—bust— isn’t without due. I can understand it in reference to someone like Pacman, or someone like JaMarcus Russell, the first pick of the 2007 draft. Russell slept, ate, got fat and fulfilled neither his potential nor our expectations.

I just don’t know if the terms used to describe JaMarcus Russell or Pacman Jones should be applied to Aaron Curry. While he hasn’t made any big plays, Curry’s never been a menace to society either, nor has he turned strip club patronage into stuff of legend.

Perhaps there should be another distinction for people who get rich for no reason, people we hate for no reason. Call them… lottery winners.

Alan Grant was a four-year starter and all-conference player for Stanford University. He played five years in the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco Forty Niners, Cincinnati Bengals, and Washington Redskins. He has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Postgame, and appears frequently on radio and television.