Picture this: A would-be franchise quarterback being yanked from a game gone horribly awry in front of the home fans. Now picture that guy directing a volcanic fury at his head coach.

Actually, you don't have to picture that last part. You can visit YouTube at your convenience and watch then-49ers quarterback Steve Young drop a tirade on then-49ers coach George Seifert in 1994.

"I basically broke," Young recalled in an NFL Films documentary about the '94 season. "(I) started saying things. If I were him, I would have turned around and fought me."

It happened during a 40-8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The 49ers played 14 more games that season, winning 13 — the 13th being the Super Bowl. Young's blowup was considered a catalytic moment in that championship campaign.

We bring this up because a similar event played out last Sunday in Oakland, when quarterback JaMarcus Russell was pulled from the Raiders' 38-0 loss to the New York Jets by coach Tom Cable. Well, similar to a point.

"What was his reaction when you told him you were making a change?" Cable was asked.

"There was no reaction," Cable said.

Among Russell's many obstacles as he tries to establish himself as an NFL-worthy quarterback is a perception problem. He worked out on the field a couple hours before the Jets game wearing his trademark ski cap and headphones. He had no reaction to being taken out of the game. Quizzed afterward, he said, "I became a cheerleader. I have no problem with that."


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The perception: There's a pleasing, contented feeling in Russell's belly where a fire ought to be. And if that's apparent from the stands, you know it's apparent to his teammates.

In fairness, a couple of those teammates propped Russell up Thursday. Then again, that's what teammates do.

"It's the hardest position in sports," backup quarterback Charlie Frye said, "and there's a lot of stuff thrown at you. For him to stay the same through everything, the good and the bad, that's impressive."

"Tony Romo was not a take-charge guy," defensive end and former Dallas Cowboy Greg Ellis said. "If Tony were here right now, you'd all be mad at him because he'd be sitting here with a smile on his face."

It's different with Russell, who was fined for being overweight when he reported to training camp this summer, and later denied it ever happened. He was listed at 260 pounds in last Sunday's program, but he looks positively ponderous on the field.

Frye praised Russell for being motivated enough to show up for work at 6:30 Wednesday morning. But if that's the first time it's happened, and apparently it is, what took him so long?

Russell can be reluctant to admit to his mistakes, especially in the immediate aftermath of a game. No doubt he's undermined by his relaxed manner.

"All the guys in the locker room with me daily know I have that fire," he said Thursday. "It's just that I'm a laid-back guy. I'm not going to get down anybody's throat, because I don't think that's the way to do it. But it can give off a bad vibe if you don't really know the inside of it."

Young wasn't exactly a fire-breather when he got to the 49ers. He'd been humbled by the failure of his first pro league — the USFL — and two undistinguished seasons with the inept Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He spent four long years watching Joe Montana craft his legend before finally getting a chance to start.

He wasn't immediately embraced by fans or his teammates. Yet it wasn't until the Philadelphia game that he unleashed his inner Vesuvius.

"It kind of galvanized the guys behind Steve," former 49ers tight end Brent Jones said in the documentary. "There's a lot of guys who said, wait a second, this guy's got some fight to him. I like that guy. I want a guy who's not afraid to tell George Seifert to jump in the lake."

"The funny thing, from my teammates' standpoint, was that suddenly I was this fiery leader," Young said. "But it taught me the vital lesson of football. Perception is reality. If you're perceived as something, you might as well be it, because that's the truth in people's minds."

Russell could use a perception makeover right about now. And that's a gift you have to give yourself.

Contact Gary Peterson at gpeterson@bayareanewsgroup.com.