The NFL draft class of 1998, much like the class of 2016, featured two marquee-level quarterbacks at the top of the pyramid. Both were projected as can't-miss, with bright futures ahead. And, if you average their careers out, that's exactly what happened: one became the greatest quarterback of all time, and one was out of the league within four years.
The first, of course, was Peyton Manning, who just capped one of the finest careers in sports history. The second was Ryan Leaf, who has been in and out of prison and is now attempting to atone for the damage he did to himself by seeking to help others.
Leaf appeared on The Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday to provide a remarkable look at the way that addiction, the NFL, and celebrity combined for a wicked, devastating blast that leveled him and destroyed his life. "The power, the prestige, and the money," Leaf said, naming his demons. He even conceded that prison helped him get his life in order and put those demons aside once and for all.
Right off the bat, Patrick and Leaf began discussing Johnny Manziel and the way that the former Cleveland Browns quarterback has "behaviorally it seems like you could be holding up a mirror to me," Leaf said. He noted that he has reached out to Manziel and his family: "When I tell my story my hope is that people don't have to hit the bottom I went to." Leaf suggested that Manziel's entire career is at risk now, and if he does not ask for help at this point, his career could well be over.
Leaf dug deep into his life, telling the stories of hiding his near-bankruptcy while attempting to coach, considering a suicide attempt, and even breaking into a home to steal drugs. He landed in prison, and that was where he believed he finally got his life together. He's now seeking to help others suffering from addiction.
On lighter topics, Leaf also had words of advice for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, who entered the league together much like he and Peyton Manning did nearly two decades before. "On the field it's going to be very fast, faster than you remember," Leaf said. "Be open to failing and look at it as an opportunity. If they're open to struggling and seeing that as an opportunity to get better, that will serve them so well."
He admitted that he didn't follow his own advice, instead throwing fits and complaining about playing time. And he refused to ask for help, he said, because that wasn't how a quarterback is supposed to act: "When people say, "Why didn't ask for help?", you never see a movie with the star quarterback saying, 'Everybody, i need help.' You have to persuade people that the confidence is there irregardless of whether it is or not. And you get found out pretty quick."
Patrick was careful to point out that many people have questioned just how sincere Leaf is, and Leaf himself acknowledged the validity of the question. It was a powerful end to a strong interview, one well worth seeing to understand the temptations and trials of fame in the NFL.