This is an article from the Nov. 14, 2011 issue
FORMER NFL SURE THING
The No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 draft recently wrote 596 Switch, detailing his rise to national prominence playing QB at Washington State.
DAN PATRICK:Why do you think there was debate in the Colts' war room about whether to draft you or Peyton Manning with the No. 1 pick?
RYAN LEAF: I was talented. But at that level, maturity and the [ability to deal] with failure is a huge factor. The scrutiny they put into the players [today] is a lot different than it was 13 years ago.
DP:When's the last time you talked to Peyton?
RL: It's been a couple of years. We text each other. He and his family have always been great to me.
DP:Did you ever root against him?
DP:But was it hard to be compared to him so much?
RL: The hardest part was the Super Bowl a few years back—when he's not only playing in the Super Bowl, but there's a commercial of him running. I'm sitting in Montana in a cabin. A little different.
DP:With the success you had in college and when you first got to the NFL, did you get too cocky too soon?
RL: I definitely let it go to my head. When I had a terrible game against Kansas City, I didn't know how to deal with criticism. Battling the best defenses on Sunday and then battling the media the rest of the week—that just can't happen.
DP:Did the media bait you?
RL: I think so, but they did their job. I was resentful for quite a while, but I understand.
DP:You've talked about your problem with pain medicine. When did it start?
RL: The first time I ever got [the medicine] was after surgery. It's the only thing that took care of the pain. So when the emotional pain became more evident down the line, when I was coaching [golf and football at West Texas A&M], it did the job.
DP:What drug was it?
DP:What's the most desperate thing you did to get it?
RL: I asked a kid who I was coaching. If ever I'm starting to feel that I'm better than anybody, I look in the mirror and tell myself, You went to that point; you took advantage of a young man who looked up to you. That is the lowest I could have gone, because I loved those kids.
DP:After you were arrested on drug charges, did you think you were going to prison?
RL: I didn't know. I was indifferent. I'm pleased that I didn't; I'm on probation. But I'm also very thankful it happened. Because if it didn't, I wouldn't be in the place that I am right now.
DP:How's your health after surgery for a brain tumor?
RL: I have to do six weeks of radiation starting Nov. 14. I'm a little worried. I don't know what the side effects are. I heard I'm going to lose my hair.
DP:That's good hair, too. Is part of the tumor still there?
RL: They got 90% of it. But it's in a place where the growth is protruding on my brain stem. It's problematic.
DP:Is it painful?
RL: It hasn't been.
DP:Has the NFL asked you to speak at the Rookie Symposium?
RL: They have. We were going to do something this year except for the lockout. I don't want to see anyone go through what I did.
Warren Sapp can't understand why Ndamukong Suh had to visit Roger Goodell to have the NFL's problem with his style of play explained to him. "You almost ripped somebody's helmet off," Sapp said. "Are you kidding me? You don't know that's against the rules?"... We're so used to the Yankees pursuing every big free agent, it's hard to rule them out of the race for Albert Pujols. But G.M. Brian Cashman insists they're not interested. "Despite him being fantastic," Cashman told me, "it's not an efficient way to allocate our resources. Offense is not an issue for us."... Bill Cowher seems like a prime candidate to take a head coaching job next off-season, but his former star running back Jerome Bettis isn't so sure. "[Cowher] wants a perfect situation," Bettis said. "Unless he gets it, he's comfortable in television." ... Alabama's Trent Richardson is 5'11", but he's as strong as most of the defenders he takes on. The junior running back told me he doesn't even know how much he can bench-press: "I did 475 easily, and they won't let me go up."