One came across as a mature young man in his 30s, the other as a lug-head in his late-20s.
One of these guys wears a Super Bowl ring and is the leader of a perennial NFL contender. The other wears a Rose Bowl ring, but is more known around the nation for being a celebrated "bust" with the San Diego Chargers.
Clearly, there's no confusing Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Leaf.
And I'll tell you right now that it's better to be Mr. Leaf.
Leaf appeared in court in a beautiful gray suit, crisp blue shirt and silk tie. He was clean cut, professional, likeable, emotional. Unlike Roethlisberger, he looked like a guy who knows where he's going.
And based on the hard work he's done to free himself from painkillers, he does know where he's going. And based on his apology to the folks at West Texas A&M and his salute to family and the Cougar Nation, he knows he wouldn't be where he is today – in a very good place – without the help of a lot of caring people.
Leaf's work to right his own ship is so complete, in fact, that the judge in Amarillo asked him to stay there a few more days to speak on Friday to a group of at-risk youngsters the judge mentors.
When asked a question this morning that had nothing to do with his court appearance – his ill-fated NFL career – Leaf took it in perfect stride.
It used to bother him a lot, he said. "It hurt me to the core that I wasn't successful at that time. I don't think people understand how much it hurt for me to walk away from it." But now, he said, he's closer to 40 than 20, so there's real perspective on what's important in life. All his energies are focused on doing the most with the present and planning for the future.
That sounds to me like a guy who is squared away.
The full text of his prepared remarks that preceded the questions-and-answers with reporters illustrated that fact in spades. Rather than summarize them, I'll let Ryan and his words speak for themselves. Here's the complete text of what he said:
"To start, I want to publicly apologize to Coach Carthel and the entire staff and team at West Texas A&M. I've apologized personally, but I would like to do so publicly as well because as anyone involved in team sports knows, the missteps of one person can leave a mark on an entire group. Worse, as an assistant coach, I was supposed to be a mentor, not the source of trouble. I'd like to thank Coach Carthel, Mr. McBroom, and President O'Brien for all their friendship and professionalism, in my tenure on the staff and for the way they handled my departure.
|LEAF, A HEISMAN FINALIST, SHATTERED RECORDS AND LED WSU TO THE ROSE BOWL FOLLOWING THE 1997 SEASON.|
"Another part of my family – my extended family – also has been a tremendous source of strength and comfort for me over the last 17 months: the fans and graduates of Washington State University. For years, I kept a distance from the Cougar Nation because I felt I let them down in my professional career. I couldn't have been more wrong. There's a popular saying, "Once a Coug, Always a Coug." It's really true. So many people in and around WSU have reached out to help me. There are no words that can express my heartfelt gratitude.
"Finally, I'd like to share some thoughts about addiction and my particular brand of it – prescription painkillers. Deep in my heart, I knew I had a problem, but I convinced myself it wasn't a big deal because these weren't illegal drugs. They were prescribed by a doctor for my various shoulder, knee and wrist injuries. I didn't have a problem, I told myself, it's the people involved with cocaine who have problems. But I did have a problem. It finally hit me square in the face in West Texas. I finally had to look squarely in the mirror. And what I saw was a guy who wasn't living a life of integrity. I was lying to myself and hiding it from those around me. My secret came out, though. That forced me to confront my addiction, but also to ask for help. That is a key piece of addiction: asking for help. To anyone out there who is afraid of what they might find if they take an honest look in the mirror, please ask for help. You don't have to battle it alone. I know it's hard. I wished I had asked for help long ago. But I am proof that it's never too late, and that the battle can be won. Today, thanks to the support, guidance and true caring of so many amazing people who love me unconditionally, I am clean. I've been clean for 17 months – a fact I'm very proud of, and a fact anyone addicted to prescription painkillers can hopefully look at, and know that there is real hope for a better tomorrow."
And now you know why it's better today to be Ryan Leaf than Ben Roethlisberger.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football. He has held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts over the last several years. Also a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.
For more on Leaf, read the CF.C exclusive published earlier:
A conversation with the real Ryan Leaf.