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Washed Up Celebrities: Ryan Leaf

With the seemingly never ending saga of professional a****** Johnny Manziel being played out right now in the football media circle, and with Peyton Manning's once beloved image being shattered right across our eyes, I've figured that with the return of my washed up celebrities article series that it's about time I chronicle a washed up celebrity who is an athlete. Since there's plenty of athletes to choose from, I've decided to write about the biggest draft bust in NFL history: Ryan Leaf.

Ryan Leaf is a former professional football player, who spent most of his short career playing quarterback for the San Diego Chargers. Leaf was a major college football star during his tenure with the Washington State Cougars football team, and his successful campaign there made him one of the top prospects in the country. However, Leaf's professional football career never reached the success he saw in college, as his horrible performance, poor work ethic and numerous injuries would all derail his career, leaving Leaf as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.


Leaf was born on May 15th, 1976 in Great Falls, Montana. During his high school years he helped lead his high school football team to the Montana State title in the year 1992. Originally Leaf planned on attending the University of Miami, where he intended on playing linebacker for the Miami Hurricanes football team. However, he was convinced to instead attend Washington State University and play quarterback for the Washington State Cougars after talking with then head coach Mike Price.

Leaf saw a major amount of success playing for Washington State, and he quickly became one of college football's biggest stars. During his junior year, Leaf led the Cougars to their first ever Pac-10 championship in the history of the Cougar's football program. He threw a then Pac-10 record of 33 touchdowns in his first season, averaged 330.6 passing yards per game, and was second in the nation in passer rating. Leaf's performance helped propel the Cougars to a appearance in the 1998 Rose Bowl, the first Rose Bowl appearance for the Cougars since the 1930 season. Controversially, the Cougars lost the game to the University of Michigan Wolverines.

After finishing third that year in Heisman voting, Leaf decided to forgo his senior year and final year of NCAA eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. With fellow college quarterback Peyton Manning from the University of Tennessee also entering the draft, Leaf soon found himself along with Manning being hotly discussed by analysts over who was the better prospect and who should be taken before the other. The Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers were the first two teams in the draft that year, and both were looking to draft quarterbacks, so this made the discussion even more intense, with almost all draft related media being focused on the two prospects. Manning was seen as the more NFL ready of the two, while Leaf was seen as the one who had far more potential.

In the pre-draft period there were a number of different warning signs that signaled Leaf's downfall. Leaf had put on around 20 pounds between the end of his junior season with the Cougars and the beginning of the NFL combine in February of 1998. Later on during the player interviews portion, Leaf's responses painted him as being far too cocky and arrogant, which made the Indianapolis Colts favor Manning more, who had done reasonably well in his interview with the team. It was allegedly asked at one point what the player would do after getting drafted. While Manning had talked about working with the team, Leaf said he would celebrate in Vegas.

In the 1998 NFL Draft, Leaf was drafted second by the San Diego Chargers, following Manning being drafted first by the Indianapolis Colts. After being drafted, Leaf lived up to his Vegas claim by taking the personal jet of Chargers owner Alex Spanos to the city, spending the entire night partying and celebrating. During his first press conference the next day, Leaf was visibly hungover, and yawned as he went on with a speech about how he was going to have a long career and would take the Chargers to a couple of Super Bowl's.

It was apparent from the beginning that the Chargers were going to cater to Leaf any way they could. Leaf made NFL history when the Chargers signed him to a four-year contract that was valued at over $30 million. Included in the contract was a guaranteed signing bonus of $11.25 million, which was the largest ever given to a rookie at the time. The Chargers were in desperate need of an offensive superstar at the time. The Chargers had a tough defense, however, they were unable to compete due to a lackluster offense. In order to get the second pick in the draft, the Chargers had to trade a Pro Bowl player and a couple of draft picks to the Arizona Cardinals. San Diego had high hopes for Leaf, unfortunately his rookie season would kill them.

Leaf's career actually began pretty well. The Chargers won their first two games of the 1998 season with Leaf as the starter. While Leaf made a few errors in each, it was showcased that Leaf did have talent and that he could perform well enough to not cost his team the win. However, the third game of Ryan Leaf's professional career was a loss that not only began the demise of Leaf, but symbolized how bad of a player he was. In a 23-7 loss to the Chargers rival the Kansas City Chiefs, Leaf threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball four times, losing three of them. Out of fifteen passes he threw, he managed to complete only one for four yards.

Following the loss, Leaf was involved in a fight in the locker room. In the locker room following the loss, Leaf had a meltdown where he went off on a San Diego reporter named Jay Posner, who just wanted to ask him a few questions. Leaf had to be restrained by both Chargers security personal and Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau. The incident was recorded on tape, and ended up being played all over various news stations and sports networks. The Chargers forced Leaf to apologize for the incident, in which Leaf read a piece of paper with a statement on it, which he threw into his locker after he was done reading it.

In the following game against the New York Giants, Leaf was benched after throwing four interceptions in the first half alone. While he did get back the starting position for the Chargers following the 34-16 to the Giants, in November Leaf was permanently benched given his continuing poor performances in games. He would finish his rookie season completing less then half of his passing attempts, throwing only two touchdowns against 15 interceptions and 8 fumbles, 4 of which were lost. He was also sacked 22 times.

Leaf put no effort into trying to better himself and he quickly became one of the most hated players in the NFL. Leaf was seen playing golf while other quarterbacks were studying film and game books, and he also skipped a mandatory draftee conference and was fined $10,000 by the NFL for doing so. He also blamed his teammates for his own poor performance, which caused tension in the Chargers locker room. Retired Safety Rodney Harrison said it was so bad that he thought about retiring to avoid any further drama involving Leaf.

Leaf would further cement himself as a draft bust when he missed his entire second season in the NFL. Less then 20 minutes into the Chargers training camp, Leaf injured his shoulder during a workout and later had to be placed on the injured reserve list after having surgery done to repair damage in his shoulder. Later on in the season, Leaf was filmed playing football in a park despite being allegedly injured.

By this point Chargers fans were now frequently harassing and mocking Leaf. During one incident that took place during training camp, Leaf almost fought a fan after he yelled that Leaf made fellow draft bust Heath Schuler look good by comparison. Later on in the season, Leaf made headlines after he got into a loud argument with the Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard and several coaches, which resulted in a fine and a suspension from the team (despite already not being able to play because he was on the injured reserve list).

In 2000, Leaf hoped to bounce back from his poor rookie season and off the field struggles. After a stellar preseason, Leaf made the cover of Sports Illustrated and many thought the 2000 season would be the one in which Leaf turned around and showed off his true potential. However, Leaf once again had a poor season. After starting the first two games for the Chargers, Leaf was benched for backup Moses Moreno. However, problems with Moreno caused a QB carousel on the Chargers. Leaf, along with other quarterbacks on the Chargers including Moreno and current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, would be competing with one another for play time. Each would constantly play, be benched for one another, come in mid-game to replace the other, and the Chargers would have a different QB start each week. The Chargers suffered horribly because of this, finishing the season with a 1-15 record, the worst in franchise history and the worst record in the league that year.

Leaf was once again able to complete only half of his pass attempts. He managed to throw 11 touchdowns, but also threw 18 interceptions and fumbled the ball 12 times, six of which were lost. He was also sacked over 30 times despite only appearing in 11 games that season. Following his disaster of a season, Leaf was cut by the Chargers. The Chargers had enough of his bad attitude, poor work ethic and play. In the 18 games he started for the Chargers over the course of two seasons, Leaf managed to only win four of them.


In 2001 Leaf was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay saw the potential Leaf had, and decided that they were going to help build and develop Leaf slowly so he could show his skill off. However, after a poor preseason performance, Tampa Bay decided to cut Leaf after he refused to be demoted to a fourth string QB position and accept a pay cut. After being cut by Tampa Bay, Leaf managed to get signed by the Dallas Cowboys, only to be cut by them after failing his physical exam. However, the Cowboys resigned Leaf after losing their starting quarterback Quincy Carter to injury. Leaf would start three games for the Cowboys and make a fourth appearance, however, all four ended in losses. Leaf would throw three interceptions over the course of those games, against only one touchdown. He completed roughly half of his pass attempts, was sacked 12 times, and fumbled four times, losing two of them.

Leaf retired from the NFL in the 2002 preseason. He had been signed by the Seattle Seahawks, who much like the Buccaneers had hoped to work Leaf into stardom. Despite allegedly being happy about the new chance he was being given, Leaf abruptly retired without giving reason, probably because he saw how his career had pathetically went nowhere in four seasons of play and that everyone disliked him.

Leaf finished his career with a horrible quarterback rating of 50.0. He threw only 14 touchdowns while throwing 36 interceptions. He completed less then half of all his passing attempts, 317 out of 655. He was sacked 65 times, fumbled the ball 24 times, losing 12 of those fumbles. He played in 25 games and started 21 them over a four year span, winning only four times as starter. As a result of his horrible performance, Ryan Leaf is now considered to be the biggest draft bust in NFL history. Numerous lists have put him as number one, and the TV show NFL Top 10 named Leaf the biggest bust ever in their episode of counting down the biggest busts of all time.

Outside of football, Leaf's life has been just as big of a wreck. While there's certainly been plenty of draft busts who have had a troubled life after failing to make it in football, Leaf has taken it to whole new level of failure and despair. After a few years of toiling around in coaching and the media circle, Leaf decided to become a drug addict and devote as much time as possible to getting arrested and being punished in a court room.

Since 2009, Leaf has been arrested multiple times for narcotics and everything from burglary to theft. In 2010 he was put on probation stemming from a indictment on multiple drug charges as well as burglary charges. However, Leaf still couldn't keep himself out of trouble. In a truly amazing feat, Leaf was arrested twice in a matter of only a few days for multiple charges of burglary, theft, and drugs in 2012. Later that year, he was sentenced to serve time within the Montana Department of Corrections. Leaf was originally put into a treatment facility, however, after continued poor behavior including allegedly threatening a staff member, Leaf was transferred to a state prison facility in January of 2013.

In December for 2014, Leaf was released from prison and put on parole. As his parole photo showed, Leaf has not aged well at all, looking far older than the age of 38 that he was in the photo. He also put on quite a bit of weight, and looks like he has stopped taking care of his hygiene, given his messy and dirty looking hair.

Leaf must be looking at the end of Peyton Manning's career with lots of bitterness. While Manning has claimed just about every major record a QB could set and has garnered much respect across the league, Leaf's name has become synonymous with the term draft bust, and he will probably be forever hated by the Chargers fan base for all the trouble he caused in his short tenure with the team.

Ryan Leaf was at one point one of the biggest college football stars in the country, and it seemed like his professional career would be that of a legend's. However, Leaf decided to throw that all away with his poor attitude and work ethic, and his life has been nothing but a disaster since then. Ever since his last release from prison, Leaf seems as if he's actually managed to get his life together, as he's now working on rehabilitating other drug addicts and has even done interviews lately about how the current spectacle with Johnny Manziel is very similar to his own ordeals. However, despite all this, Leaf will forever be known for not only being one the largest failures in NFL history, but for also just how troublesome one person's life can become. All this makes Ryan Leaf one colossal washed up celebrity!
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SockofFleagulls Posted on Dec 08, 2016 at 04:43 PM

Very nice rundown of his career. Pretty sad.
I'm a Raiders fan so I wasn't disappointed that the Chargers struck out with their choice as a franchise QB.

Rick Ace Rhodes Posted on Mar 28, 2016 at 03:03 AM

Thanks Vaporman!

Vaporman87 Posted on Mar 28, 2016 at 12:08 AM

Wow. I had heard of Ryan Leaf a few times, but did not know he was such a complete and utter failure. LOL. That's just pathetic. I do hope he manages to scrape together some kind of halfway decent existence, but it certainly does look like he needs to do a lot of work on himself before that can happen.

Great piece Rick.

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