Hunter S. Thompson to Irsay: Leaf over Manning

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What if Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had taken the advice of journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, received a $30 million loan from him and selected Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft?

There probably wouldn’t have been the playoff games, the Super Bowl appearances or Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis had Irsay listened to Thompson 20 years ago.

Leaf, an NFL bust who was taken by the San Diego Chargers at No. 2, added another twist in the Manning vs. Leaf draft debate from 1998. Leaf tweeted Thursday a picture he recently received of the letter that the late Thompson sent Irsay saying he wouldn’t give the Colts owner a $30 million loan for Manning, but he would do it if Indianapolis selected Leaf and made Leaf its franchise quarterback.

“[Leaf] 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,” Thompson wrote in the letter to Irsay a month before the 1998 draft.

Irsay and Thompson, author of noted works such as “Hell’s Angels” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and also an ESPN contributor who died in 2005, had developed a relationship when Thompson insisted in 2001 that the team owner buy at auction a $2.43 million scroll of “On the Road” done by Jack Kerouac.

Thompson wrapped up the Manning-Leaf letter by stating, “I expect to be very rich when this depp movie comes out,” referencing the 1998 film adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” starring Johnny Depp. The cult classic failed at the box office, costing an estimated $18.5 million to make and grossing $10.7 million in the United States, according to IMDB.com figures.

It’s a good thing that Thompson wasn’t able to sway Irsay when it came to choosing between Leaf and Manning.

Manning led the Colts to a 141-67 record, the playoffs 11 times, eight seasons of at least 12 victories and the Super Bowl twice, winning one of those appearances. A statue of Manning was unveiled outside Lucas Oil Stadium in 2017, and he is expected to be a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 2020.

Leaf? He flamed out, lasting only three seasons in the NFL while throwing a total of 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.



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