It almost seems hard to believe that the Colts once hesitated to select their greatest ever player, but it’s true. Peyton Manning wasn’t always a lock to go 1st overall in the 1998 draft.
In the weeks leading up to the 1998 NFL draft, there was a single debate that was prominent in the football world. The Indianapolis Colts had the 1st pick and were in the market for a QB, so who would they select.
Everyone knew the decision came down to 2 players: Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. Obviously, everyone knows how this story ends. Colts GM Bill Polian would stick with Manning who went on to become the greatest player in franchise history, winning an NFL record 5 MVPs along the way.
Meanwhile, Leaf would fall 2nd overall to the San Diego Chargers and then proceed to crash out of the league within 5 years. He would go down as one of the biggest draft busts in the history of football, and even run into problems with the law post-retirement.
Peyton Manning Demanded That the Indianapolis Colts Select Him
Knowing the outcome of the situation, it seems ridiculous that there was even a debate between the 2 players. While their on-field performance might have been comparable, there was no question that Manning’s mentality was far superior.
And this is exactly what the Sheriff hoped to prove to then Colts GM, Bill Polian, before he made his choice. While Leaf missed his interview with the team at the scouting combine, Manning came prepared with questions of his own.
While Leaf looked shabby in workouts, Manning showed up hours early, drenched in sweat to make an impression. And while Leaf showed little interest in the Colts organization, Manning demanded that they select him.
“If you draft me, I promise we’ll win a championship,” Manning told Polian after he refused to make a commitment to selecting him. “If you don’t, I promise to come back and kick your a**.”
Luckily for Polian, his choice panned out. In 2006, Manning led the Colts to their first Super Bowl victory since 1970, when the team was based in Baltimore.
A few years ago, after he had been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Polian recalled the iconic decision between Manning and Leaf.
“There’s a lot of people now that have amnesia because it was a much tougher choice than people now believe,” he said. “Those that liked Manning were not terribly anti-Leaf. Those that liked Leaf, for some reason, were vociferously anti-Manning.”
He went on to explain how Manning’s workout and arm strength were far more impressive and so prior to the draft, he and his staff were “in agreement” to go select him first overall.