When sifting through some old football stuff I came across a 1998 ESPN The Magazine Draft Preview edition. There is some stuff in there that is mildly interesting in a general sense looking back at the perceived wisdom before that year’s Draft, but of course the thing that captivated my interest most of all was what the Magazine though about the Manning vs. Leaf debate at the time – before the benefit of hindsight.
Frankly it’s staggering. The red flags surrounding Leaf jump off the page, even in an article that doesn’t in the slightest set out to bring him down.
Leaf readily admits to not working out at all for two months following his Bowl appearance, touring the banquet circuit, schmoozing and partying, and balooning up to 260+lbs. This in stark contrast to Manning who presumably never left the gym in that period. Despite all of this, people were still more captivated by Leaf’s penchant for the unconventional, perhaps led down that path by the success Brett Favre was having in the NFL at the time. The unorthodox but spectacular was more appealing than the guy who just delivered the ball to the open guy play after play. People wanted excitement in their QB.
In an ESPN SportZone poll asking who the best player in the upcoming draft was, 64% of people answered Leaf compared to just 36% that plumped for Manning from over 45,000 respondents. That’s a colossal goof by everybody, not just the insiders evaluating the two quarterbacks. Leaf was seen by many as the better prospect, not just by a select few lunatics or people that didn’t correctly do their homework in the lead up to the Draft.
The article sets out to make the distinction between the two players as one between preppy, perfect Manning and maverick, uncontrollable Leaf, but it seems far too ready to dismiss the obvious issues Leaf had as simply a wild-child attitude, rather than a serious impediment to his future success.
The interview with Leaf actually takes place in a jacuzzi, with the reporter vividly describing the belly Leaf had developed despite losing around 15lbs from his peak girth after the college season. The idea that any top prospect today could balloon to more than 20lbs out of shape is practically beyond belief, yet this seemed to be barely given any significance in the article, rather portrayed simply as a colourful anecdote.
A coach who nailed Leaf perfectly was described as “one curmudgeon offensive coordinator”, while the article concludes by lauding Leaf’s “don’t give a crap attitude”, before actually claiming he would be the player striding up to a podium in Canton in 2018 rather than Manning (whoops!).
Anyway, Rather than relay everything to you, I’ve scanned the entire article and will post the images below. Enjoy the read, and let it serve as a reminder this week of just how wrong everybody can get it.