He went from franchise a quaterback – the second pick in the 1998
NFL Draft – to a punch-line and ultimately, to retirement all by the tender age of 26. Ryan Leaf's story is one of unfulfilled
expectations, disappointment and wasted talent.
Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf? As unfathomable as it seems now, it was
debated by everyone that had a casual interest in pro football prior to the 1998 NFL Draft. Although the Indianapolis Colts
chose Manning with the #1 overall pick, there were several "experts" that felt Leaf would be the better quarterback.
legend of Ryan Leaf began at C.M. Russell high school in Great Falls, MT. It was there that he first began to wow people
with his golden right arm and frustrate them with his arrogance. Leaf, while a star on the football field and basketball court
was not a favorite of his teammates or the locals. In fact, Russell High has not retired the jersey of its most famous alumnus.
From there he moved onto Washington State University in Pullman, WA. Following in line of Timm Rosenbach and Drew Bledsoe,
Leaf continued the University's tradition of quarterback excellence. A First-Team All American (ahead of Manning) and Heisman
trophy finalist in 1997, Leaf passed for nearly 8,000 yards in his collegiate career and led the Cougars to their first Rose
Bowl appearance since 1931.
Figuring he'd accomplished everything he could at the college level and that his NFL stock couldn't get any higher, Leaf left
Pullman after his junior year to begin what would assuredly be a standout pro career. The San Diego Chargers, slated to pick
third in the 1998 Draft, saw Leaf work out and just had to have him. There was one problem: Leaf wasn't going to make it past
the second selection which was owned by the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona meanwhile, already had a young QB phenom in Jake Plummer
and was offering the pick to the highest bidder.
The Chargers were the suckers they were looking for. In exchange for moving up one spot in the draft, San Diego gave Arizona
their first round pick (3rd overall), their second-round pick (32nd overall), their 1999 first-round pick, wide receiver Eric
Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp.