Go back in time to April 17, 1998, the day before the NFL Draft was to begin. The Colts held the first pick and the Cardinals held the #2 pick with the Chargers at the #3 pick. Two Quarterbacks stood out among the draft and every NFL executive wondered how the draft was going to play out. Some evaluators had Leaf as the #1 pick, but in the end the Colts selected Peyton Manning with the first pick, which has panned out to an amazing career and an almost certain lock on the Hall of Fame.
My story follows the second pick, Ryan Leaf. The Chargers were so certain of Leaf’s greatness that they actually traded two First Round picks, a Second Round pick, a back-up Linebacker and Running Back Eric Metcalf, who had just played in the Pro-Bowl. How many collectors stocked up on Leaf rookie cards? Bought up Leaf autographs and stored them away for a rainy day? Sought out and paid big bucks for a dime sized jersey swatch jammed in to a horribly designed card.
April 14, 2010, almost 12 years to the day since Leaf was drafted with the #2 pick by the San Diego Chargers. He is not sitting at home in an easy chair remembering his heyday in the NFL, he is not sitting in a gym working out in anticipation for his 12th NFL season, instead he is sitting in a court room in Amarillo, Texas. Leaf just pleaded guilty to 8 felony drug charges and is waiting for his punishment to be decided. In the end he is sentenced to 10 years of probation and a $20,000 fine, a pretty big hit for someone who now sells time-shares and vacation packages.
You can find a couple of hundred Ryan Leaf cards up for auction, roughly 300 at the time that I am writing this, ranging from 1 penny to $73.50 and there are a only 2 bids for a grand total of $1.00 out of all of those auctions. What could have been a decent career has turned in to a blooper reel of immaturity and poor decisions.
As a Post Script, Brian Griese was selected in the 3rd Round and Matt Hasselbeck was selected in the 6th Round both would have given a better return for the Chargers.