If only NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had uttered those word back in the Spring of 1998, then maybe the Chargers would be the team with a Super Bowl title and a multi- MVP quarterback in Peyton Manning and the Colts would be shaking their head.
So, in case you forgot about what was going on in 1997, let us call Marty McFly, hop in our Delorian, and gun it to 88 and see where both teams were back then.
The Chargers were not that far removed from a trip to the Super Bowl in the 1994 season. The Colts had made an impressive playoff run a year later, coming up a hail mary short to the Steelers in the AFC title game. But after that, it was nothing but longing for the days of Johnny U and Dan Fouts.
The Colts only won three games in 1997 with a plethora of name droppers at QB, including an aged and banged up Jim Harbaugh, Kelly Holcombe, and my personal favorite Paul Justin. This team also had Marshall Faulk, but it didn't matter due to a very lackluster defense.
The Chargers were also a team in the dumps in '97, winning just four big ones. They were in a similar situation like the Colts with an aging Stan Humphries who was often injured. His backups were Jim (don't call me Chrissy) Everett and Craig Whelihan.
Out in the college ranks Peyton Manning was having another solid campaign at Tennessee, throwing for more than 3800 yards and 37 TD's. Many felt he was a consensus number one pick to whoever landed the top spot in April, but as Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend.
Out in the BFE of Eastern Washington Ryan Leaf emerged out of nowhere to lead the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl in 67 years. Leaf threw for 34 scores and just under 4000 yards during the season.
All of a sudden every expert, including Mel Kiper and his greased down hair had a debate on who to pick at no. 1. Manning was the conservative pick, while Leaf was the next in line and was thought to have a high upside.
Boy were they wrong.
Leaf's career was just bad both on and off the field. He threw for just 3,666 yards in his entire career, and threw twice as many picks as he did touchdowns. Off the field it was one fight after another, whether it be coaches, teammates, or reporters. Leaf was a huge draft bust to say the least.
So the question brought up by this article is where the Colts would be if they had picked Leaf? It certainly makes you think of the McFly time travel scenarios of the 80's doesn't it?
One thing can be sure, the Chargers would have been in a good situation. Manning, LT, Gates, and others could bring up discussions as to if they would have been the team playing in more Super Bowl's than the Patriots.
On the other side, the Colts... Oh those poor Colts. I can only imagine the horror in their eyes as Leaf scuffled game after game, yelling at Indianapolis Star reporters, yelling at Jim Mora, and fighting with guys like Faulk.
Other questions can be brought up about how history would have changed if Colts GM Bill Polian had been a Leaf-head.
One thing is for sure, the 1999 draft would have been the same.
The Colts still only managed three wins in Manning's rookie year. I couldn't foresee Leafy winning any more than that in '99. Thus, Edgerrin James would probably still have been a Colt.
But what about Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, others you may ask?
Well, to put it simply we will never know if the Colts would have been in the position to draft them, or if they would have had such great careers with Leaf or someone else in there.
Marvin would probably not be a Hall of Fame potential receiver. Reggie Wayne may not have ever became as good as he is right now, and would Lucas Oil Stadium have ever been built if a guy like a Jack Trudeau was leading the team?
Then you have to wonder if Jim Mora would have ever been able to have his "Playoffs?" outburst in 2001. I am pretty sure that playoffs would have been the last thing on his mind with Leaf as the starting QB.
Where things really get interesting is with the draft of class of 2004.
Could the Colts have perhaps grabbed the other Manning? (insert pinky over mouth) Sounds evil to me.... Muah Muah Muah!
That would be the biggest question I would ask when it comes to the Peyton/Leaf debate. You could possibly assume that the Colts would be as bad as the Chargers were at that point without a solid starting quarterback. But, then again, you never know when it comes to Bill Polian.
Just imagine number 10 Eli Manning leading the Colts instead of Peyton. Wow, that just blew my mind, almost as much as Peyton being a Charger. Could Eli have lead the Colts to a Super Bowl as a Colt? I guess thanks to Leaf we will never know.
There are many debates on what the impact of this draft was. For the Chargers it was immediate futility, and the Colts it was a grab of a future hall of famer. No one will ever know what the title impact could have been for each franchise because of many different factors, including management, current talent, and others.
One thing can be certain, this was possibly the biggest 1-2 QB decision ever in the NFL draft. For one team it was a run of greatness, the other it was a quick look, then on to the future.
Ryan Leaf as a Colt... If only Charger fans had access to the Delorian and could sway Bill Polian....
On a sad final note, if you were wondering where Leaf is today, well he may be in jail somewhere in West Texas. In recent years he has struggled with an addiction to pain killers and was recently indicted on 7 counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. It is truly a sad ending for a guy who was supposed to have a stellar NFL career.