Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 11/14/11

An athlete's career is uncertain. For every John Elway or Robin Yount, with a long tenure of sustained excellence, there are a dozen Joe Charbonneaus or Mark Fidryches, guys who had a taste of fame and flamed out for one reason or another.

A thousand things can intervene. Some athletes just lose it. Mackey Sasser, a catcher for the Mets, woke up one day and couldn't throw the ball back to the pitcher. Len Bias, celebrating his first pro contract and getting drafted, blew his heart up with drugs. Gale Sayers took a sweep left, planted to cut back, and Kermit Alexander blasted into his knee, genius interrupted and destroyed. Nothing's guaranteed. Still others can be great at one level and mediocre at the next. Marcus Dupree was once Marcus Lattimore and Marcus Allen rolled into one, but now he is a minor league wrestling promoter in Philadelphia, Mississippi.


Dupree ran a 4.3 40 but couldn't get out of his own way. For the Ducks, that player was Onterrio Smith, as physically talented, powerful and fast as any runner they've ever had, but he turned himself into a punchline and a cartoon, "The Whizzinator." His Oregon roommate and good friend, tight end George Wrightster, called him, "One of the most talented football players I have ever seen." Wrightster spent six years with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, catching 94 balls and scoring 9 touchdowns. He was right about Smith, but "Terrio" couldn't stay right.

Marijuana and drug addiction cost Onterrio what could have been a brilliant NFL career. He'd scored 99 touchdowns and run for over 6,000 yards at Grant High School in Sacramento, signed with Tennessee, the 1998 National Champions, but got suspended a year later for marijuana use. Mike Bellotti gave him a second chance with the Ducks, where he led the team in rushing for two years, 2001 and 2002, with 2199 yards and 19 tds. In one game against Washington State he ran for 285 yards.

Pro scouts drooled over his measurables, but he slipped to the fourth round over rumors about his drug use, signing with the Vikings after leaving the Ducks after his junior year.  He ran for 579 and five touchdowns as a rookie, another 500-plus the next season, then got caught on a plane in Minneapolis with the kit, dried urine samples and a fake penis. By 2005 he was suspended, a year later out of the league.

He tried a comeback in the CFL but showed up to camp at 257 pounds and with a bad foot, cut by Winnipeg in the summer of 2006. Back in his old neighborhood now, he attends the games at his old high school, and counsels young players to avoid his mistakes.

Every athlete's career ends. Some lose a step, some hit their ceiling, others lose their way. Greatness is a fleeting thing, easily squandered, and as fragile as a glass menagerie.

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