Happy Draft Day Cougs!!! My second favorite holiday, to Signing Day of course.
I have a good drinking game for you. It’s simple. Every time someone mentions Ryan Leaf today, take a shot. While it might not get you as wasted as it used to (thank God for JaMarcus Russell), the point is this, arguably our most prolific player in WSU history will forever be tied to this day as perhaps the biggest bust in NFL draft history. But I don’t need to tell you that.
In his own words:
“… I am No. 1. I can’t even think of anyone else in the ballpark that might be close to my combination of disappointment and failed expectations.”That little nugget is from a story on Leaf in the Los Angeles Times, conducted only days after being sentenced to 10 years of probation in April of 2010. It paints a picture of a man very different than most would expect or remember…
Leaf is no longer the bullheaded punk selected No. 2 by the Chargers in the 1998 draft. He has been humbled by adversity, and now holds himself accountable for his failures in the NFL and the pain-killer addiction that followed.
Interviews with Leaf these days are candid and honest. Take this morning’s interview with the Dan Patrick Show for example. Leaf admits that at the time he was drafted that he was a very “entitled” and “spoiled” athlete. He also admits that, in hindsight, staying for his senior year at WSU would have been the best thing for him.
“You don’t want to say the money changes you, but it definitely does. I think getting drafted later would have been a benefit, to sit behind a veteran quarterback and learn. But I really think the best thing I should have done was to stay in school one more year. The next year I would have had a lot of scrutiny on me, and we would have struggled because we lost so many players from the year before. I would have learned to deal with a little failing, and then when that happened in the league I could have dealt with it in a more positive way.”
I will admit, perhaps nobody was more disappointed with Ryan Leaf than myself. Simply put, he was the reason I became a Coug. Watching the rocket-armed kid from Great Falls was one of my fondest memories as a kid growing up in Husky territory. I eagerly followed his heroics, from Pullman, to Pasadena, to New York, to San Diego. But that last stop was when he stopped being a hero to me.
Aside from his atrocious play on the field for the Chargers, Leaf was not exactly the best role model when it came to dealing with the media and his teammates. When headlines began to emerge about Leaf’s antics, I endured constant jabs from husky fans. Deservingly put, Leaf was a punk, and for years I cringed when his name would come up on draft day.
However, following his pro career his name rarely came up, other than on draft day of course. He lived a life of obscurity, had little to no relationship with his alma mater, and for awhile he just seemed to disappear. That is until his name emerged again when he became the QB coach at West Texas A&M.
“Good for him,” I thought. Despite all the past disappointment, I legitimately hoped the best for one of my all-time favorite Cougs. But then in true Ryan Leaf fashion, he failed. Just like his tenure in San Diego, his name was once again accompanied in headlines with negativity, when he was indicted on drug and burglary charges. It was truly a new low.
But as my Dad once told me, a man’s character is not measured by his failures, but rather how he rises up from them. And for that reason, I look up to Ryan Leaf infinitely more today as a 25-year old that has faced adversity of my own, than when I was a 13-year old kid.
After his time in court, Leaf changed. He went to rehab and cleansed himself from his pain-killer addiction. He started publicly holding himself accountable for his actions, dating all the way back to his time as a immature rookie in San Diego. Instead of running from his past, he began to own up and speak openly about it. But most importantly, he became a Coug again.
A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Ryan at a Night With Cougar Football. It was a bit nerve-racking to meet one of my childhood idols, particularly one with a reputation of being a major a**hole. But I found him to be the complete opposite. When he spoke to the crowd, he admitted he was embarrassed, and thought that Cougar Nation resented him for the disappointment he had caused. He also expressed his gratitude for the Crimson family welcoming him back with open arms.
Today Leaf lives in Montana, and in his previously mentioned interview on the Dan Patrick Show, it sounds like he’s doing well financially as he saved much of his money from his short time in the NFL. Leaf also recently announced that in a partnership with Crimson Oak Publishing, he will be writing 3 books on his trials and tribulations.
So on draft day today, 13 years after Leaf stood on the stage in Radio City Music Hall, I challenge you to my little drinking game. Hell, I’m 3 drinks deep from the time I started writing this article alone. But I’m not drinking to get wasted. Instead, I’m toasting to the resurgence of Ryan Leaf, not on the football field, but in life. Much respect.
Also wishing the best of luck to Zach Williams and Reid Forrest. Crossing my fingers for you guys!