by Kent Sterling
When Bill Polian came to the Indianapolis Colts in December, 1997, in exchange for the Colts third round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, he brought with him the draft analysis he had put together while the president of the Panthers, and according to a member of Polian’s staff, Peyton Manning was at the top of the board.
Agent Leigh Steinberg has written an autobiography that claims that he and quarterback Ryan Leaf manipulated the draft to force the Colts toward Manning because he favored the climate and laid-back attitude in San Diego.
Leaf supposedly blew off a meeting at the 1998 NFL Draft Combine with Colts coach Jim Mora as part of a plan to agitate the hot tempered Mora into rejecting the physically gifted and mentally undisciplined Leaf.
In the book, Steinberg discusses the aftermath of Leaf missing the meeting, “Once Ryan was a no-show, Mora, as anticipated, went ballistic. I defended my player, naturally, dismissing the coach’s response as another Mora meltdown. As I’d anticipated, Ryan was criticized, but the plan achieved its purpose. The Colts took Manning. Something tells me the folks in Indianapolis have never regretted that decision.”
That might all be true. Leaf and Steinberg crafted an idiotic plan to avoid being drafted first. Leaf definitely missed the meeting, according to reports. Manning was drafted by the Colts.
But Polian left Carolina with Manning at the top of his board, and Logo Athletic was printing Manning jerseys days before the draft.
Manning was a sure thing with elite pedigree for the Tennessee Vounteers who were ranked third until losing to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Sure, Manning lost four times in four tries against Florida, but the last three years, he led the Vols to a top ten ranking. He understood his role as quarterback for Tennessee, and famously delivered pizzas to students camping out for tickets. Leaf had one outstanding season for the ninth-ranked Washington State Cougars, and rode his strong arm to a draft day bubble destined to burst.
This pick was every bit the no-brainer prior to the draft as it is looking back at Manning almost 16 years later preparing for his third trip to the Super Bowl, and Leaf continues to serve time at Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby, Montana, after pleading guilty to charges of felony burglary and drug possession.
Steinberg can try to sell books with this wacky story, but to assert that the Colts drafted Leaf because of a manipulation worthy of a petulant fifth grader is ludicrous.