Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

15 Years Later And We're Still Getting New, Sad Ryan Leaf Stories

Illustration for article titled 15 Years Later And Were Still Getting New, Sad Ryan Leaf Stories

ESPN's Jim Trotter gives a big ol' endorsement of Johnny Manziel's chances of succeeding in the NFL, based largely on his perception of Manziel's mental makeup. To make his case, he contrasts Manziel with another cocky QB prospect, and breaks out a Ryan Leaf story I hadn't heard before:

I covered Ryan Leaf when he entered the league in 1998 as the No. 2 pick overall. He was brash and outwardly confident, owned a powerful right arm and fit the physical prototype that teams look for. But behind the façade, Leaf lacked the heart to fight through adversity. Failure was acceptable to him. He viewed quitting as a solution, not just an option.

He admitted as much in his second season, when during a confidential conversation he told me he was strongly considering retiring. He had had a disastrous rookie season in which he lost the respect of teammates and the fans, and then lost his starting job. Year 2 wasn't much better. He had shoulder surgery early in the season and, in November, was suspended for four games and docked one week's salary for conduct detrimental to the team. It was then that Leaf told me was leaning toward quitting the game. I was incredulous and filled with questions. 'Retirement? After only two seasons? Where is your pride? Your fight?'

Leaf didn't end up retiring in 1999, but he didn't make it much farther. Following a hilarious-in-retrospect SI cover story from Michael Silver on his comeback, Leaf suffered a wrist injury early in the 2000 season that he unwisely played through. (Leaf claimed he was misdiagnosed and mistreated by team doctor David Chao, who turned out to be kind of a disaster. Leaf would become one of four Chargers to sue Chao, who stepped down last year amid legal troubles that led two local hospitals to bar him from performing surgery there.)


Leaf bounced around before retiring just ahead of training camp in 2002, at the tender age of 26. He has alternately blamed his wrist and claimed he was totally healthy, but Leaf is the classic case of a guy who seemed to actively hate doing the thing he was best at.

Jim Trotter's point is that that definitely doesn't describe Johnny Manziel, but we don't really know that yet, do we? Manziel is obsessive about winning, sure, but winning is mostly all he's done. It'll be interesting to see how he handles the at-least-temporary futility forced upon him by his franchise.


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