Where Have You Gone Ryan Leaf?


The Chargers were thrilled to draft Leaf even if it took a king's ransom to make it happen. In July they inked their franchise savior to a four-year contract worth up to $31.25 million, including an $11.25 million signing bonus. On August 5, Chargers head coach Kevin Gilbride announced Leaf would be the team's starting quarterback.

Leaf's NFL career began with promise; the Chargers began the 1998 season 2-0. Although his numbers were mediocre – 1TD pass, 2 INTs – Leaf became the first rookie quarterback since John Elway in 1983 to win his first two starts.

The good times came to a screeching halt in the season's third game at Kansas City. More of Leaf’s passes landed in the arms of Chiefs than Chargers – he finished the game 1-15 for 4 yards with 2 interceptions. The loss began a four game losing streak, which lead to Gilbride's dismissal. June Jones, who had been acting as the team's quarterback coach, was named as his replacement on an interim basis.

The Chargers defeated Philadelphia 13-10 in Jones' debut, but then lost two straight before Leaf was benched in favor of Craig Whelihan. The rookie would appear in just one more game that season, a 38-17, Week 15 loss to Seattle. All told, Leaf appeared in 10 games during the 1998 season, completed 45% of his passes (111-245) for 1289 yards, 2 TDs and 15 INTs. The Chargers finished the season 5-11, let Jones go and hired Oregon State head coach Mike Riley.

As a rookie, Leaf fared no better off the field. In September he cursed at a cameraman near his locker and made matters worse by unleashing a tantrum on a writer who wrote about the incident the following day. The second time it was captured on camera and shown nationally. In December, he was accused of sleeping in a team meeting and just "going through the motions" after being benched.

by David Zingler