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Ryan Leaf: the anti-Manning

Two college quarterbacks are certain to be drafted 1-2 in this year’s NFL draft.  The near-certain #1 will be the polished field general from Stanford, Andrew Luck.  After the Colts snap up Luck, the Washington Redskins will select Robert Griffin III, the freakishly athletic QB from Baylor.

In 1998, the Colts also had the first overall pick in the draft.  That year, too, two quarterbacks were certain to go 1-2.  There was the polished guy from Tennessee, Peyton Manning.  Not only did he seem to understand the game at a very high level, his dad (Archie) had also played in the NFL.

The other guy was Washington State’s Ryan Leaf.  If you wanted raw athletic skill, you’d pick Leaf.  The Colts were divided internally, with the scouts preferring Leaf but the people with actual power in the front office preferring Manning.  The rest is history, with Manning winning a Super Bowl and taking the Colts to heights their fans could never imagine.

The San Diego Chargers calmly selected Leaf with the second pick, ecstatic to have a franchise quarterback.  It was probably the worst mistake the organization ever made.

Leaf picked fights with the media, alienated teammates, played golf when he should have been studying film, and played terribly when he was on the field.  The highlights of his rookie year were two touchdown passes.  Unfortunately, the low points were the fifteen interceptions.  He was eventually benched in favor of Craig Whelihan.

Leaf was out of the NFL by 2001, at the age of 25.  He finished his career with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.  Had the Ryan Leaf story ended at that point, he would have simply been a spectacular NFL bust.  There have been plenty of highly touted quarterbacks who performed very poorly in the NFL.

But the next steps in Leaf’s life have made him not just a bust in football, but a bust in life.  Leaf has developed an addiction to pain killers, and it’s been landing him in jail on a frequent basis in recent years.  In 2008, while working as an assistant football coach, he asked a player for a painkiller.  It is, of course, illegal to use someone else’s prescription drugs.

In recent years, Leaf has taken to burglary to feed his habit.  In 2010, he was sentenced to ten years probation for burglary and possession of a controlled substance.

Last year, he had a benign tumor removed from his brain stem – something that would scare a lot of people straight.

This past Friday, he violated that probation by breaking into a house to steal pills.  He bonded out … and was arrested again today after breaking into another home and stealing three bottles of pills.  Police obtained a warrant for GPS data from Leaf’s truck, which placed him at the scene of the crime.  Police were checking with residents of ten other homes where Leaf stopped.  Texas authorities are revoking Leaf’s probation.

Authorities also believe that Leaf has been received small, rattling packages worth more than $500 once or twice per week.  You can probably figure out what’s in those packages.

It’s sad that Leaf’s career turned into the mess that it did – but it’s just sports.  It’s tragic that a young man who once was lauded by millions has become nothing more than a common junkie.

Ryan Leaf is still a relatively young man – 51 weeks younger than me – so there’s still hope for him.  But he needs to turn his life around immediately, or he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison – or he’ll stumble toward an early grave.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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