Indianapolis Colts fans owe plenty of gratitude to Peyton Manning for years of success, including a Super Bowl title, but it just so happens they should be thanking infamous draft bust Ryan Leaf as well.
According to USA Today's Mike Foss, former NFL super-agent Leigh Steinberg, who is releasing a tell-all book entitled The Agent, revealed that Leaf purposely acted out in an effort to make the Colts prefer to draft Manning instead of himself in 1998.
Steinberg claims that Leaf was steadfast in his desire to play for the San Diego Chargers rather than the Colts:
"No way do I want to play in Indianapolis," he told me, referring to the Colts, who owned the No. 1 pick. Instead, because of the exceptional weather and the more laid-back lifestyle, he preferred the San Diego Chargers, who would go second.
"That’s fine," I warned him, "but the way to achieve this is not exactly going to help your image. You'll get a lot of criticism." Ryan didn’t care about his image, though, only his destination.
With Leaf's desires at heart, Steinberg devised a plan to make sure that his client would drop to No. 2, and it involved Leaf no-showing a meeting with then-Colts head coach Jim Mora and the other heavy hitters within in the organization:
"If you go to the combine," I told Ryan, "but fail to show up for a meeting with Mora, that should do it. Jim is a real prideful person who has a tendency to explode. I am not recommending you do this, but if you are desperate to go to San Diego, this is the way."
Once Ryan was a no-show, Mora, as anticipated, went ballistic. I defended my player, naturally, dismissing the coach's response as another Mora meltdown. As I'd anticipated, Ryan was criticized, but the plan achieved its purpose. The Colts took Manning. Something tells me the folks in Indianapolis have never regretted that decision.
The rest is history, as Manning has gone on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL, and he has a chance to win his second career Vince Lombardi Trophy when he leads the Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Leaf, on the other hand, played just 21 games for the Chargers before being released. He attempted to resurrect his career with the Dallas Cowboys; however, the 2001 season would prove to be his last. Since then, Leaf has encountered a multitude of legal problems as well.
Had the Colts taken Leaf instead of Manning, it stands to reason that the respective courses of both franchises would have changed significantly.
Despite Steinberg's claims, former Colts general manager Bill Polian said on ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning that the stunt perpetrated by Steinberg and Leaf isn't what caused the Colts to go with Manning instead, according to Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith:
Agents cannot manipulate anything in the draft. Leigh and other agents for years and years have told kids that they can get players drafted by a certain club at a certain spot, and nothing could be further from the truth. That assumes that we on the club side are idiots, that we're able to be manipulated, that we don't do our homework, that we don't watch the tape, that we don't go all the way back to the junior high school coach and high school principal, teachers, doing our due diligence. It's just the kind of hubris that existed among agents years ago where they told kids flat-out, "I can get you taken here, I can get you taken there." Nothing could be further from the truth.
Regardless of how Indianapolis ultimately made the decision to select Manning No. 1 overall, there is no question that it was the right one.
Colts fans have rightly scoffed at Leaf and thanked their lucky stars that they took Manning instead for well over a decade, but the disgraced signal-caller may have had a greater influence on the best run in team history than anyone previously realized.
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