A good friend once told me that every great public personality must “own their cartoon.” It’s a funny statement, but it has become one of my favorite mottos as I’ve grown older.
What does it mean to own your cartoon? Well, to put it uber simply, owning your cartoon means that you’re aware of the less-than-ideal parts of yourself and you embrace them so that it becomes yours. Maybe it’s a personality trait, quirk, or even a rocky past. Whatever it is, as long as you let the world know that you know, you can weaponize it to your advantage, potentially winning some naysayers over along the way.
Ryan Leaf remains one of the greatest players, let alone quarterbacks, in Washington State University history. He was one play away from leading the Cougars to a National Championship in 1997 and helped bring legitimacy to the school near the turn of the millennium. He capped off an amazing junior season as a Heisman Trophy finalist, alongside Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, and Charles Woodson. The Montana kid would be put under the microscope and analyzed relentlessly in the months leading up to the 1998 NFL Draft. The age-old question at the time was,
Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf?
Peyton Manning would eventually go number one overall to the Indianapolis Colts while Leaf was swept up by the San Diego Chargers, who made a blockbuster trade to move up to the number two spot to select him. That’s where the love affair between the NFL and Leaf ended.
In a quick four year-span, Leaf would be out of the NFL. He was a bust. In a historical sense, he remains one of the biggest busts of all time. He’d probably tell you he’s the biggest NFL draft bust of all time. How do you go from NFL teams trying to decide between you and Peyton Manning, to 4-17 over your career and out of the league at age 26?
Leaf was unfortunate enough to have his worst moments throughout his young adult life broadcast to a national audience. It’s easy to discard him as simply being arrogant or immature. Could you imagine being at the center of media attention when you’re at your lowest point in life?
I had the chance to meet Ryan Leaf on a press tour for his book when I was a radio student in high school. He was very kind and answered all of my starstruck questions. I didn’t care that he didn’t have a Hall of Fame career. He was a bonafide WSU legend. We threw the football around in the parking lot of the old Signs Now as he told me some of his favorite memories at WSU. I bought his book, which I still have, and went on my way. He’d made a fan for life. Little did I know that he was about to hit a major setback in his life.
In 2012, Leaf would be sentenced to five years in prison for burglarizing two homes in Montana in the search for painkillers. He was an addict and he was at his lowest point. What would you do if this was your life? I’d find it hard not to give up and I know I’m far from the only one. Leaf has stated over several interviews spanning the last eight years that he never had fulfillment in his life until he stopped putting himself ahead of others. He mentored other inmates who had spent so much of their lives battling addiction.
When he was released in 2014, his trajectory was back on the rise. In the past 8 years, Leaf has recreated himself as a spokesperson for those who continue to fight against addiction. He has also enjoyed professional success within the football world again. He’s an analyst for college football, has his own show, and is a frequent guest and host of The Rich Eisen Show, and along the way, he has owned his cartoon. He knows what people think of him and he recognizes it. He doesn’t put the blame on anyone else but himself and he’s not afraid to speak up about bad teams or players. Who else has more authority to comment on such topics? The best part is that he is killing it.
@samiontap Well @New York Jets … Ryan Leaf now owns you. Thats it ? ? #nfl #ryanleaf #jets #nyjets #newyorkjets #zachwilson #jetsfootball #chargers #wsu #wazzu #wsufootball #nfldraft #byu #byufootball #wsucougs ♬ Sunday – HNNY
Leaf’s commentary is spot-on but when he decides to go all in on a topic, he’s shown no hesitation to refer back to his own failures. One great example of this has been his constant jabs at the expense of the New York Jets and their young, arrogant number two overall pick, quarterback Zach Wilson. All I can do is tip my hat to this man because as it stands, Ryan Leaf is on track for the last laugh and you have to respect his self-honesty.
The 100 Greatest Sports Legends in Washington & Oregon History
Whether they were born here, grew up here, went to college here, or played professionally here, these are the athletes you can’t forget if you’re from the Pacific Northwest.