Ryan Leaf is up early each day and often out the door before his parents get up. He wants to stay busy, see people if he can. It’s a routine he needs.
Life hasn’t turned out the way Leaf expected.
He struggled with fame. That led to infamy. He struggled with drugs. That led to shame.
About a decade ago, the ex-quarterback was among the biggest stories in the NFL. When he was drafted in 1998, the debate was over whether he or Peyton Manning should be the No. 1 pick.
Then he turned into one of the biggest busts in league history. He was booed and benched in San Diego, where he lost 14 of his first 18 starts. He lashed out at fans, journalists and teammates who criticized him. And in the years after he washed out of football, his life got worse _ ending in a criminal conviction.
But here’s the thing: Leaf gets it that he fell short, how he disappointed, and how he rubbed people the wrong way with his arrogance. And now in the relative calm of his Montana hometown, under the eyes of his parents, he’s trying to mount a comeback at the age of 34, nine years after his last NFL pass.
It’s not about a return to football. It’s about being accepted, about a return to normalcy.
“I would like to be able to walk into a room … introduce myself and be the person I am now and have people make their judgments from that,” Leaf says. “That’s all I can do.”
He’d pretend to be a quarterback, stuffing a kitchen towel inside the waistband of his sweat pants and using his collection of football trading cards to build defenses in the living room. Little kid stuff, the stuff of dreams.
“He’d lean them up against the couch on the floor, and then he would be the whole offense,” said his mother, Marcia Leaf. “He would set the timer on our microwave for the 2-minute drill.”
From the start, John Leaf remembers, his son was “very, very competitive.” At 12, Leaf listed goals: playing football on scholarship at a big college, winning the Heisman Trophy and playing in the NFL.
That desire to win came with a price, even early on.View Entire Story
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