Many people only know Peyton Manning as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, who also led the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos to a ton of success. However, some people know him as a human being — and a great one at that. Whenever Peyton Manning and his draft class come up in conversation, people typically bring up the name Ryan Leaf. The No. 1 overall pick in 1998 came down to those two guys, but the Colts ultimately made the right selection as Leaf sadly became one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
Despite Manning going on to have a Hall of Fame career and Leaf eventually ending up in prison, though, Manning actually became a “lifeline” for Leaf during a really dark time.
Ryan Leaf sadly went from a top NFL draft pick to prison
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Ryan Leaf was a big-time prospect coming into the NFL. However, despite being the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft, his last game in the league was just a few years later during the 2001 season.
Leaf then sadly went through a dark time after his career. According to the Desert Sun, in 2010, Leaf pleaded guilty “to seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud,” in addition to “one count of delivery of a simulated controlled substance.” Leaf then received a 10-year probation sentence.
Then in 2012, according to the Desert Sun, Leaf also pleaded guilty to “felony burglary and criminal possession of a dangerous drug”. Leaf then eventually spent time in prison before getting released in December 2014.
However, even through those tough times, Peyton Manning was there for the former quarterback.
Peyton Manning became a ‘lifeline’ for Ryan Leaf
“When I was in my deepest, darkest hole and struggle, he reached out,” Leaf said, according to The Athletic. “I just needed a lifeline, and he was always that guy for me. During a really dark time – this is hard for most to comprehend – but I wouldn’t go get my mail. I didn’t want to hear from anybody. My roommate would always get my mail.”
He continued: “I remember once he brought me a letter from Peyton, but I ripped it up and threw it away – because that’s who I was at the time. Others sent letters; I never read them. I was just hoping to die in there. But he reached out and he always has when things are going bad.”
Leaf then went on to say that Manning’s actions were “meaningful.”
“He’s a guy I could have resented a lot because of his success and my lack of success. But I didn’t. He was always such a good human being,” Leaf said, per The Athletic.
Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf will always be linked
It appears that Ryan Leaf has since turned his life around, as he works in sports media. However, he and Peyton Manning will always be linked because of that 1998 NFL draft.
Leaf was coming off a great college career at Washington State, and Manning was coming off a legendary career at Tennessee. Many wondered who would go No. 1 in the draft, but the Colts selected Peyton Manning first, and Ryan Leaf went to the Chargers at No. 2.
Manning went on to have a Hall of Fame career. He earned 14 Pro Bowl selections, five MVP awards, and he was a two-time Super Bowl champion. Manning is also third in NFL history in passing yards (71,940) and passing touchdowns (539).
Leaf, on the other hand, only played in 25 total games for the Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. He threw for 3,666 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions. He is sadly considered one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
Ryan Leaf certainly could resent Peyton Manning, the No. 1 pick in the same draft class as him who ultimately became a Hall of Famer. However, Manning never forgot about him and ultimately became his “lifeline” during a dark time.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference