Sixteen years after the Colts chose Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in the 1998 NFL draft, there’s a new controversy about the process that went into that decision.
Leigh Steinberg, Leaf’s agent, wrote in a new book that Leaf wanted to go second overall to San Diego instead of first overall to Indianapolis, and that Leaf manipulated the Colts by skipping a meeting with them. According to Steinberg, the Colts were initially leaning toward taking Leaf, and decided to go with Manning only when Leaf didn’t meet with them. Steinberg also claims that the Chargers were in on the plan.
“I first cleared the idea with Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, lest San Diego also question my client’s reliability. Beathard went along with the ruse,” Steinberg writes.
But former Colts G.M. Bill Polian says that’s ridiculous.
Polian appeared on Mike and Mike in the Morning and said that there were many, many reasons that the Colts chose Manning over Leaf, and Steinberg and Leaf wouldn’t have been able to stop the Colts from drafting Leaf if they had liked him better than Manning.
“Agents cannot manipulate anything in the draft,” Polian said. “Leigh and other agents for years and years have told kids that they can get players drafted by a certain club at a certain spot, and nothing could be further from the truth. That assumes that we on the club side are idiots, that we’re able to be manipulated, that we don’t do our homework, that we don’t watch the tape, that we don’t go all the way back to the junior high school coach and high school principal, teachers, doing our due diligence. It’s just the kind of hubris that existed among agents years ago where they told kids flat-out, ‘I can get you taken here, I can get you taken there.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Polian did confirm that Leaf had skipped a meeting with the Colts at the Scouting Combine, and Polian said that Steinberg lied about it afterward and claimed that the Colts had given Leaf the wrong time.
“I remember Leigh telling the press that we had blown it because we hadn’t given him the right time,” Polian said. “I knew that was false because I made the call. I’m glad after 16 years he’s finally told the truth.”
Beathard also appeared on Mike and Mike and seemed confused about the whole story, saying he didn’t remember much about it. But he said that the Chargers liked Manning better than Leaf, and so the Chargers wouldn’t have gone along with a plan to manipulate the Colts into drafting Leaf.
“We absolutely wanted to draft Peyton,” Beathard said.
Beathard says he realized at Leaf’s first practice that he had made a huge mistake by drafting Leaf with the second overall pick.
“He was in terrible shape — he couldn’t even complete the jog around the field at the start of practice,” Beathard said. “It was a disaster from the start and I’m responsible for it.
Ultimately, what’s really extraordinary about this is that we’re still talking about the Manning-Leaf decision, all these years later. Leaf is sitting in a jail cell, while Manning is preparing for a Super Bowl that may be the crowning achievement for the greatest quarterback of all time.