Everyone loves a good comeback story, and one of them will be on your TV screen each Saturday this fall.
On Sunday, ESPN announced it has hired Ryan Leaf as a game analyst, five years after he was in prison as a convicted felon.
“Ryan has experienced the highs and lows in the game of football, putting him in a position to relate to a wide range of situations players can find themselves in,” said Lee Fitting, ESPN’s senior vice president of production. “He will be able to rely on those experiences — including an unbelievable college career where he was an All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist — in his analysis, making him a tremendous asset for our team.”
Before he could fall, first Leaf had to rise.
The Montana native led Washington State to a Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl appearance in 1997, performing well enough to finish third in the Heisman Trophy voting — behind only Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning, future Pro Football Hall of Famers both — and earn a No. 2 selection in the 1998 NFL draft.
That was as good as it got for Leaf as a football player; he quickly flamed out with the San Diego Chargers and played only 25 games as a professional.
Leaf became addicted to painkillers, which led him to his firing from a coaching job at West Texas A&M for stealing injured players’ pills, which led to breaking into homes, which led to multiple felony drug and burglary convictions, years in prison and, in conjunction, thoughts of suicide.
“I was looking up ways to kill myself on Google,” he said in 2016. “I tried with a dull knife. There was blood. Selfish, selfish thing to do. I couldn’t do it. I thought about pulling into my parents’ garage and let (the engine) run so that my loving mother and loving father would find me. That would have been the end-all, be-all.”
Released from prison in 2014, Leaf has rebuilt his life, which includes a dip of the toe into broadcasting waters. He shadowed a number of quarterbacks-turned-broadcasters, including the likes of Kirk Herbstreit, Brock Huard, Joel Klatt and Greg McElroy, in spent last season as an analyst on Pac-12 Network while co-hosting a show on SiriusXM Pac-12 Radio.
Now, he’ll work as a color commentator alongside play-by-play man Clay Matvick on ESPN2 and ESPNU.
“Five years ago sitting in a prison cell I would have never imagined that I was going to be part of ESPN and the Disney Corporation,” Leaf told the Associated Press. “If you would have told me that I would have said you are absolutely crazy. And I can’t believe it. I lay my head down every night with a ton of gratitude.”
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.