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 Hunter S. Thompson, received a $30 million loan from him and selected Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning with No. 1 overall pick in 1998?

There likely 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 him 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, developed a relationship when Thompson insisted that the team owner buy a $2.43 million scroll of “On the Road” done by Jack Kerouac in 2001.

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, the Super Bowl twice, winning one of those appearances. A statue of Manning was unveiled outside of Lucas Oil Stadium in 2017 and is expected to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 2020.

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

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