Even old nemesis likes what he sees in Leaf

RYAN LEAF WILLINGLY walked into the lion's den the other day. For those who know the nitty-gritty of his history in San Diego, the name T.J. Simers rings long and loud. The veteran southern California sportswriter didn't just criticize Leaf back in the day. He blistered him. Over and over. No words were spared, no misstep too small to magnify.

So when Simers came looking for an interview with the former WSU All-American, one might presume Leaf would say no thanks.

Or something stronger.

He didn't.

Given the history between the two, the enormity of that decision screams for perspective. Here it is: Ryan Leaf agreeing to an interview with T.J. Simers is like Ali inviting himself to Frazier's house for the holidays and Smokin' Joe actually spreading out the welcome mat. Think of any strained relationship and multiply by ten.

The two hadn't talked in a good decade or so. Until Friday.

Leaf, who is now 17 months removed from the addiction to prescription painkillers that cost him his coaching job at West Texas A&M and thrust him into the legal spotlight, has said he no longer has anything to hide. He has said he wants to tell anyone who will listen that addiction to painkillers is a huge problem in this country and the battle can be won if the first step – asking for help – is taken.

But to think Leaf's new leaf would allow him to willingly talk with Simers is quite a statement about his new-found openness.

And the result of it all can be found in this morning's editions of the Los Angeles Times. In a story headlined, A humble Ryan Leaf believes he can still turn it around, Simers says the present-day Leaf sounds nothing like the immature "punk" he knew way back when and concedes that the notion of the two of them actually talking borders on "far-fetched."

Simers also notes that the Leaf he talked with on Friday did two things he didn't recall the youthful Leaf ever doing: laughing and firing up some self-deprecating humor.

The topic that elicited this animation was one Leaf tried for years to ignore: The bashing he takes every spring when his name is trotted out as the biggest bust in NFL draft history.

"I have to own it," Leaf told Simers. "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 come close to my combination of disappointment and failed expectations.

"I dodged a bullet," Leaf then quips. "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."

CLICK HERE to read the entire story. It's a good one.

THE L.A. TIMES' PIECE wasn't the only nice article about Leaf over the weekend. The Amarillo Globe-News on Saturday ran a story about Leaf speaking to a group of at-risk youngsters on Friday. What makes the engagement notable is that Leaf was invited to speak by the judge who handed down Leaf's probation on Wednesday. Here's the full story, headlined LEAF: I WANT TO HELP OTHERS.

IN ADDITION TO THE NEWSPAPER coverage of Leaf in recent days, both of Seattle's sports radio stations conducted thoughtful interviews with the old Cougar. Here are links to both:
  • KJR's Ian Furness talks with Leaf.
  • KIRO's Moore and Calabro talk with Leaf (about 15 minutes into the show).

    AND IN CASE YOU MISSED them, CF.C published a pair of interesting Leaf articles … one, a column on Wednesday by Paul Sorensen; and the other a comprehensive interview with Leaf from two months ago in which he addresses a wide-range of topics, including what play would have been called in the 1998 Rose Bowl if those two seconds hadn't mysteriously been taken off the clock .

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