Peyton Manning is honored by Indiana and the Indianapolis Colts organization with a statue in front of Lucas Oil Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Robert Scheer/IndyStar 5601305840001
Just when you think every story has been told about Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf and the 1998 NFL Draft …Â
Turns out there was pressure on Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay to draft Leaf … from Hunter S. Thompson, theÂ “gonzo” journalist from Rolling Stone whose fame bloomed with “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”Â
Leaf recently received a letter datedÂ March 1998, sent byÂ Thompson to Irsay, urging the Colts to select Leaf No. 1 overall.
Here’s how the letter read:
“In response to yr. addled request for a quick $30M loan to secure the services of the Manning kid — I have to say No, at this time
“But the Leaf boy is another matter. He looks strong & Manning doesn’t — or at least not strong enough to handle that “Welcome to the NFL” business for two years without a world-class offensive line.
“How are you fixed at left OT for the next few years, James? Think about it. You don’t want a china doll back there when that freak Sapp comes crashing in.
“Okay. Let me know if you need some money for Leaf. I expect to be very rich when this depp movie comes out.
“Yr. faithful consultant,
A few clarifications about the letter: “Sapp” is pass rusher Warren Sapp. “depp movie” was the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” starring Johnny Depp as Thompson.
Leaf said Thursday on the “Rich Eisen Show” a man came up to him at a recent Los Angeles Dodgers game, asking what he knew about the letter.Â
Leaf’s response: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”Â
The man (who wasn’t named on the show) said he knew Irsay and could get him Thompson’s letter. Leaf told Eisen about it, and Eisen asked John Walsh — a former ESPN and Rolling Stone executive — about its authenticity. Walsh assured Eisen the letter is genuine.Â
The paths of Irsay and Thompson crossed when Irsay bought the original scroll upon which Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” was written. Irsay loves classic rock music and literature.Â
“I was not in the right mindset to be an NFL quarterback at the time.” Leaf said his priorities at the time were weather and women, so he preferred going to San Diego, which took him No. 2 overall. He wasn’t thinking about the possibility of havingÂ Marshall Faulk and Marvin Harrison as passing targets.Â
Former Colts executive Bill Polian has often discussed the differences between Manning and Leaf in the pre-draft interview process. As Polian tells it, Manning swore he would dive into the playbook right away, and Leaf said he was going to Las Vegas the first chance he got.
“I doubt that’s what I said,” Leaf said Thursday. “I’ve heard a lot of what Bill Polian has said via that draft. I don’t know if a lot it was true. It does sound like something I might say back then.Â
“I was telling people a lot of what they wanted to hear.”
Leaf mentions at the end of the interview that the Colts must have been seriously considering selecting him, because he received a Colts jersey with his name on it. That jersey now hangs on the set of the “Dan Patrick Show.”