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Monday, July 29, 2002
Leaf didn't fall far from the tree

By Eric Immerman
Special to Page 2

News item: Much-maligned quarterback Ryan Leaf opted to retire Friday, rather than report to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks, who would have been his fourth NFL team in five seasons.

VH1 Presents ...
Before They Were Flameouts: The Ryan Leaf Story

Narrator: He might have banked more than $20 million, ravaged NFL franchises from San Diego to Tampa to Dallas to Seattle and possessed a microscopic quarterback rating. But before he captured our hearts as a colossal bust of biblical proportions, Ryan Leaf was just an ordinary citizen, squandering talent and failing to live up to expectations on a much smaller scale, without the scrutiny of fame or notoriety.

Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf could never live up to all the comparisons with "Peyton."
Tonight, with the help of first-hand accounts from the friends and family who know him best, VH1 turns back the hands of time and discovers that long before he successfully displaced Todd Marinovich as the NFL's most dynamic flop, Ryan Leaf exhibited the tell-tale signs of an aspiring flameout.

Ryan's mom: From the inception ... from the moment of conception (laughs), Ryan demonstrated an innate capacity for broken promises and misspent potential. Not many people know this, but we were actually expecting a girl, and we had even picked out an adorable name for her ... Peyton. Isn't that cute? Anyway, we were a little disappointed, but at least he threw like a little girl.

Ryan's dad: The doctors told us that Ryan was the "prototypical size" for a newborn. But all that little (expletive) ever did was eat and sleep and (expletive). Hell, he wasn't even able to walk for a couple of years. Oh, he had the size and requisite motor skills, he just didn't have the heart, I guess. I pretty much knew right then and there that he'd grow up and single-handedly cripple an entire NFL franchise. That's my boy.

Narrator: As he grew older, Ryan began to flourish as a grade-school kickball phenomenon. His teammates at the time were treated to an early glimpse of Ryan's trademark penchant for blaming his shortcomings on others, a characteristic that would eventually help define his NFL career.

(Fourth-grade classmate) Kyle Robbins: Ryan liked to receive "baby bounces" on the kickball field. He said they helped generate more power. The opposing pitchers knew this, however, and subsequently fed him a steady diet of "smoothies." And whenever he'd make an out, he'd conveniently blame the pitcher for not throwing the baby bounces he requested. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I once heard him blame a "ghost runner" for not scoring from second on a single.

Ryan Leaf
Leaf's temper first surfaced on the kickball field in fourth grade.
Narrator: Those who foresaw Ryan's future flameout potential were not relegated to the athletic domain. Ryan's ninth-grade math teacher and driver's ed instructor, Mrs. Goldensohn.

Mrs. Goldensohn: Ryan was a promising young student; he just didn't apply himself. His most glaring weaknesses were in the areas of percentages and converting feet to yards. And word problems. He couldn't solve word problems -- not even simple ones like this: In 1998, Player No. 1 in San Diego throws for two touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and an absurdly low quarterback rating of 39. Meanwhile, at the exact same time in Indianapolis, Player No. 2 sets NFL rookie records for most completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns. Using trigonometry methods and rounding up to the nearest hundredth decimal, tell me why Player No. 1 sucked. And please show your work.

Narrator: Ryan's knack for failing to meet expectations was showcased in the NFL, but was polished and refined at Charles Russell High School's Sadie Hawkins dance. Stacy Myers, who asked Ryan to the dance after her first choice (Brad) had already been asked by some skanky cheerleader, explains.

Stacy Myers: Actually, there were a lot of girls at the time who thought Ryan might have been a better catch than Brad. He had enormous upside. I mean, he was a football player, he had a decent fake ID, and his parents were always out of town. I had such high expectations for that night, but Ryan took me to the drive-thru window at Wendy's, bought a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, and threw up all over my dress. And to be honest with you, I'm not the least bit surprised he didn't last that long in the NFL ... he certainly didn't last that long the night of the dance [winks at camera].

Narrator: By the time he was given the starting quarterback job his senior year of high school, Ryan possessed all the tools necessary to be considered a legitimate flameout prospect.

Ryan Leaf
Leaf retires with these career numbers: 14 TD passes, 36 interceptions and a career QB rating of 50.0.
(Former high school coach) Jack Johnson: After we made him team captain, Ryan seemed more interested in being a celebrity than being a quarterback. He attended all the big field parties. He wore his jersey to school even on non-game days. He was all over the morning announcements. But he let it all get to his head. He lost his composure. He was alienating his teammates and accosting members of the yearbook staff for not including enough pictures of him.

Narrator: And speaking of yearbooks, perhaps the most eerily prescient sign that Ryan was headed for super bust-dom came from the Senior Superlatives.

(Former senior class president) Joshua Tyler: (Looking at old yearbook.) Wow. That's weird. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but yeah, Ryan was voted, "Most Likely to Have A Promising Future That Will Never Come To Fruition."

Narrator: This has been another edition of Before They Were Flameouts. Stay tuned for "Behind The Music: Jock Jams, Volume 3."

Eric Immerman is a contributing comedy writer to ESPN The Magazine and "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn." His material has been featured on Laugh.com, and he is the creator and writer of EarDuster.com, a now defunct online newspaper devoted to sports parodies and satire. He can be reached at eimmerman@hotmail.com