Turning annual draft beating into perspective

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a year makes. When 1090-AM radio in San Diego called Ryan Leaf last spring asking for an interview, both sides were a little uneasy. After all, it had been a decade since Ryan had talked with anyone in San Diego media circles. Nowadays, Ryan is a periodic guest on 1090. And for good reason. His 23 minutes on air the other day, for example, were pure gold.

How so?

Try this exchange between Ryan and host Darren Smith in talking about the quarterback class in the upcoming NFL draft

Smith: "Ryan Mallet's the quarterback out of Arkansas – everybody says this guy has the potential to be the next Ryan Leaf. I wonder what Ryan Leaf feels about Ryan Mallett being called the next Ryan Leaf."

Leaf: "I feel bad for him. They're already sticking him behind the eight-ball, aren't they? I don't approve of that. I had everything going for me when I stepped into the league and didn't make the most of it and wasn't mature enough to deal with things and fell on my face … For him to be put behind the eight-ball like right out of the gate has gotta be kind of difficult. He should have a lot of optimism. His type of (college) career, his type of athletic ability, he could be very successful in this league … I feel sorry for the kid being put in those handcuffs …."

Smith: "That is an unbelievable statement from Ryan Leaf there."

Smith also talked with Leaf about the book he is writing about his four years at Washington State. The book is due out the day of the WSU-Stanford game on Oct. 15.

The book is coming along well, Leaf said, and the creative process received a major jumpstart after he sent out 130 emails and Facebook messages to friends, former teammates and old coaches asking for their most vivid memories – good or bad – from their time together in Pullman.

"The response has been amazing," said Leaf, who started his writing career in earnest last fall as a columnist for Cougfan.com. "Within two days, I had 90 responses … amazing stuff to draw on."

One of the most humorous – yet cringe-worthy – tales came from ESPN reporter Mike Sando, who was the Spokesman-Review's Cougar beat writer when Leaf was at WSU. "I actually threw a football at his head one time after a bad story had been printed once …. That was fun to relive a little bit," Leaf said with a chuckle.

A portion of the proceeds from the book will be directed to a scholarship at WSU in honor of Leaf's grandfather. The book will cover the time frame between Leaf's verbal commitment to play ball at WSU up to his announcement the day after the 1998 Rose Bowl that he was going to forego his last season of eligibility to enter the NFL.

As part of the writing process, Leaf's publisher encouraged him to write on Facebook and Twitter about the writing of the book – something he does only modestly so far.

When Smith asked if Leaf wants people following him on Twitter, Leaf was matter-of-fact: "I don't know how much relevance I have with the public anymore."

Smith was quick to note the fact the NFL draft is near. "If ever there's a time in the calendar year when Ryan Leaf is relevant it's this time of year … What's this time of year like – the lead up and build up to the draft – being Ryan Leaf."

The annual talk of Leaf being the most notable bust in draft history is "getting earlier and earlier and earlier," Leaf said. "It's almost in January now when people start bringing it up. It's awkward, it's weird."

In an interview last year with T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, Leaf said it took a long time to come to grips with his failed NFL career. Asked by Simers if Leaf agrees with most pundits that Leaf is the biggest-ever NFL draft bust, Leaf was downright funny in response.

"I used to go to bed at night hoping somebody else like Heath Shuler might magically leapfrog me on those all-time bust lists. It never happened. Why? Because I am No. 1. I can't even think of anyone else in the ballpark that might be close to my combination of disappointment and failed expectations,'' Leaf told Simers. He added that it could have been worse, however. ""I dodged a bullet. A strong case can be made that Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback since Unitas. It's bad enough as it is, but just imagine if I had been picked ahead of Peyton.''

It's that kind of mature perspective and 20/20 hindsight that should make Leaf's Cougar book a pager turner.

To hear Leaf's interview with Smith click here for the audio

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