The Indianapolis Colts made the right decision about 15 years ago — a decision that would turn the tides of their franchise for decades to come. But that decision might not have been theirs alone to make after all.
With the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL draft, the Colts were choosing between quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Ultimately, Colts owner Jim Irsay and the rest of his staff decided on Manning as the future of the franchise, but, according to Leaf’s former agent, Leigh Steinberg, that wasn’t before Leaf sabotaged the entire process.
Steinberg, the sports agent who inspired the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, just released a tell-all book called The Agent: My 40-Year Career Making Deals and Changing the Game about some of his most high-profile clients. One story that stood out among the rest, though, was Leaf’s desire to sabotage his chances of being taken No. 1 overall so he could wind up instead with the San Diego Chargers, who held the No. 2 pick.
“I told Ryan it would do no good to approach Colts GM Jim Irsay,” Steinberg wrote, according to USA Today Sports, which obtained an advance copy of the book. “Irsay saw the sport the same way he viewed his other passion, rock ‘n’ roll. Just as musicians tended to be a bit eccentric, so did football players, and that did not stop him from drafting Jeff George or trading for Eric Dickerson.”
Steinberg knew that Irsay could deal with a lot, but Colts coach Jim Mora didn’t handle things quite as easily. So, the agent gave Leaf the idea to skip his meeting with Mora during the NFL combine, which he believed would be enough to convince the Colts not to draft Leaf.
“‘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,’” Steinberg wrote.
Leaf wanted to play for San Diego “because of the exceptional weather and the more laid-back lifestyle,” Steinberg said. Ultimately things worked out exactly as the quarterback wanted, too, as Irsay, Mora and the Colts’ staff decided on Manning, and Leaf dropped into his ideal situation with the Chargers.
Obviously, the Colts got the last laugh, though, as Manning turned out to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, while Leaf lasted just three seasons in the NFL, playing in 25 games, completing 48.4 percent of his passes and throwing 14 touchdowns to a whopping 36 interceptions.
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