Players' desire to avoid playing for Colts head-scratching

January 22, 2014
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An amusing story emerged this week about agent Leigh Steinberg helping his then client, quarterback Ryan Leaf, avoid getting drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998.

The story came from a book penned by Steinberg and recently published. To recap, Peyton Manning went No. 1 overall to the Colts and Leaf went No. 2 to the San Diego Chargers in 1998.

According to Steinberg, Leaf intentionally skipped a meeting with Colts brass, including then coach Jim Mora and team president Bill Polian, so Indianapolis would pass over him and he could play for San Diego. Headlines over the last two days have screamed ‘Leaf, Steinberg sabotage draft.’

That notion to me is laughable. For the record, Polian said this week he was leaning hard toward drafting Manning all along.
But something else not so laughable came out of this goofy story. Leaf isn’t the only player who apparently has tried to dodge playing for the Colts.

Most know the well worn story of John Elway trying desperately to avoid playing for the Colts in 1983. He even opted for professional baseball until the Colts traded him to Denver. But that was when the Colts were led by unpredictable owner Robert Irsay.

Ancient history, right? Apparently not.

Several news sources while reporting the Leaf story also reported that Robert Griffin III had a strong desire to play for the Washington Redskins rather than the Colts. During the 2012 draft, Andrew Luck went No. 1 overall to Indianapolis and Griffin went No. 2 to Washington.

Of course, there are other teams too that players have tried to avoid. Eli Manning and his representatives brokered a deal to strong-arm his way out of San Diego in lieu of the New York Giants when he was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2004.

There are so many things I don’t understand about a prospective NFL player not wanting to get drafted by or play for the Colts, I’m not sure where to start. This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m an Indianapolis native. And I’m certainly no Jim Irsay apologist.
It’s easier for me to understand Elway’s motives. But when former Colts owner Robert Irsay died in 1997, many of the concerns about playing for the Colts should have died with him.

First, the Colts play mostly indoors—unlike when Elway was drafted. That should be ideal for just about any quarterback, running back or wide receiver looking to put up big numbers and become an NFL star.

Jim Irsay has done nothing but prove that he’s committed to winning and willing to pay his star players big money ever since he took over the team. He’s also made sure the team’s facilities have stayed top-notch.

And if Manning proved anything, he proved you don’t have to be in a big NFL market to be a mega star. The NFL’s national television contract and its massive popularity almost make it irrelevant where a player plays. If an NFL player is a star, he’ll be exposed by the league’s well-oiled marketing machine.

Leaf’s and Griffin’s stories are particularly puzzling. San Diego and Washington would be at the top of the list of teams—right along with Dallas and Oakland—that NFL players should be trying to avoid.

Those teams’ owners either lack commitment, judgment or both to make them consistent winners. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Cowboys’ Jerry Jones are two of the most meddling owners there are. And not in a good way.

Dating back more than a decade, the Spanos family that owns the Chargers has made a series of decisions regarding general managers, head coaches and players that blow the mind. The Spanos family has become so polarizing in their own home city that they can’t parlay the support needed to get financing for a new stadium.

The track record over the last 15 years of Al Davis and his family—which is equal parts wackiness and futility—in Oakland speaks for itself. From the non-stop carousel of coaches to Al’s lawsuit against the league years ago, the drama with the Raiders never seems to end. Along with that drama, has come a lot of losing.

I’ve had enough head-scratching interviews with Jim Irsay not to be blind to his, ahh, quirkiness. I certainly don’t profess to understand the man. But aside from his Twitter babbling, Irsay mostly lets his guys do their jobs. And he gives them the resources to do so.

Irsay seems to understand a basic premise of winning forwarded by the Cowboys’ founding president and general manager Tex Schramm years ago. The best teams, Schramm once pontificated, are the ones where “owners own, coaches coach and players play.”

 Maybe guys like Leaf and Griffin are in the minority. Yeah, they probably are.

Still all this makes an idle mind wonder if at times this thinking by players hurts the Colts’ chances of signing the best players available. That may be especially true in free agency, where players have a lot more control over where they go than when drafted.

Owners can own and coaches can coach all they want. But if the players won’t play for a team, where does that leave it?


  • The Difference
    The common thread is that professional sports teams in Indy are about "TEAM" first and individual stats and glory second. Leaf, Griffin, and Cornelius Bennett were all about their own stats and how much they were getting paid. I would throw Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk right in with them. Of the group, Faulk is the only one with a Super Bowl ring. Team play and team glory are wanted and appreciated in the Circle City.
  • Not so fast
    I would not through Marshall Faulk in with that group. Marshall had no issues playing for the Colts or with the Colts until Polian traded him away for a pittance.
  • 2 Thoughts
    1) Thanks Ryan! 2) Perhaps RGIII didn't want to come into a situation having to fill the enormous shoes of Manning. Luck had no issues and is a better long-term QB for our team. Thanks Robert!
  • Blame
    I blame the Hulman family and the idiots at the IRL for the reason these football players did not want to come to Indy..bawwahaaawaaahaaa
    • Quality of
      Many professionals, when they can choose where to live and begin a career, base their decision not only on "the job" but also quality of life issues. Indianapolis is "fine" with regard to quality of life, but when you really can choose someplace to call home that offers amenities and lifestyle closer to what you desire, why not? Maybe they just weren't into the Hoosier way...poverty, provincialism and good ol' boy politics. Anyone ask these guys why they didn't want to play for the Colts? Is it the Colts, or is it Indianapolis, or is it the Midwest? Pro athletes are no different that hungry attorneys or hotshot software guys. They have choices, and more on their mind than the job.
      • maturity
        In the past 17 years Mr. Jim Irsay has become a top notch owner. Very few of us felt that way initially which could have been Leafs (thank God) reason for not wanting to come to Indy.
      • Seriously?
        How about not wanting to play before a city that needed two extensions to sell out an indoor playoff game? Or how about the fact that when a driving distance opponent is in town the stadium is 33% cheering for the other team because the loyals sell their tix? Finally, how about wanting a market that provides a nightlife in which Indy (albeit awesome to raise a family) cannot compete with DC or SD?
      • Depends on what you want in life off the job
        If you want to live in a sprawling, architecturally unambitious northside mansion and raise your kids among golfing MDs and rotarians with highly conservative tastes in politics and dining, Indy and the Carmel metroplex are totally for you. Bully for you. If your tastes in architecture, dining and politics are perhaps more ambitious and you, on your off-work hours prefer hiking in the mountains in the morning and stand-up paddleboarding until sunset, after which you have your choice of several thousand very good restaurants, there are several more attractive franchise destinations. My head, it doth go unscratched.
      • Indy's not for everybody and that's a good thing
        Colt's are about winning. Indy's media and fars are supportive, realistic and comparatively kind... to the Colts and the Pacers. We probably aren't missing a lot when some players choose some other team. If Leaf and RG III represent what type of player we're missing then hooray, let's keep it up.
      • More to Life than the JOB
        I was recruited to work for a reputable software company my Sr year of college. The location - Detroit. I turned it down. If the location was in San Diego, I would have taken it. Location is a factor that does carry more weight than we are willing to admit. Indy's a good place to live, but its not ideal. Every time I start up my snow blower I get more motivated to move to a more "ideal" environment.
      • Indianapolis
        They don't want to live in Indianapolis. People who live here don't seem to understand that it's not Paris.
      • Blame Chief
        Why would any athlete in their right mind want to come to a market with one track bloggers like Chief. Glad to see your actually reading a football story
      • #2 Picks making excuses
        RGIII and Ryan Leaf are very easy to understand. They are making a lame excuse after the fact, why they were NOT selected 1st overall in the draft. The fact is, Peyton and Andrew were better. The other two guys had no shot and can't let their egos get over it. Call Oliver Stone and David Stern (Patrick Ewing to the Knicks).....Conspiracy Theory!!
      • Indy Pretty Good Place to Live
        Somethings must be good here. Jeff Saturday could have gone with Peyton to Denver and all the glory, but chose to stay here with his family. Plus I moved her from Colorado and stayed!
      • Former Resident
        Well, I doubt it has anything to do with the high level religious and lifestyle intolerance, the aggressive nature of Tea-Party style (my way or the highway) politics, the overtly disproportionate poverty level (and incarceration level) of blacks versus whites, or even the upcoming NRA convention. Aside from great weather, complete tolerance of things different from you, and equal treatment of all citizens (regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation) what could San Diego, Denver, or DC possibly offer a single 20-something with the means to support themselves financially? There are many things to love about Indy. But let's get real people. We need some honest introspection about the world as it really exists, not as we would like to imagine it should be.
        • Honest??
          Since when do the Colts have a crowd 33% in favor of the visiting team?? 1986?? With all the Colts alumni living in Indy, we must be a pretty nice place to live.
        • Choices
          I think that professional athletes, like other in-demand professionals (architects, physicians, engineers, business executives, etc.), have choices and they exercise them. While Indianapolis is a great place to live and raise children, it does not offer the cultural, dining, and business amenities that other large cities and markets (San Diego, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York, and Dallas, etc. offer. Now the cost of living is less expensive and the crime rate is lower in Indianapolis but for the people that have options about where to play and/or live-money is not object for them and they can afford to live in a neighborhood where they have a very expensive home and don't have to worry as much about the crime rate. Therefore, Indianapolis, while it has a great deal to offer, does not really come into the equation for them. Concerning team owners, Jim Irsay is certainly not the best owner in the world and he is not the worst. But any owner who would make the comments about Peyton Manning that he did, prior to the Broncos vs. Colts game last fall, makes you wonder about what he is thinking. Peyton Manning helped make Indianapolis a destination city for athletes to come and play and stay their whole career, think Peyton Manning in football and Reggie Miller in Basketball- two hall of famers in their individual sports. So for Irsay to criticize the person who helped him get his new stadium that he threatened to leave Indianapolis for unless he got it- is crazy and ludicrous. He has put himself in the same crazy light as his father Robert and Jerry Jones (Dallas), the Spanos family (San Diego), the Davis family (Oakland), the Brown family (Cincinnati), etc. and the other poor management ownership groups. While I support and like the Colts, I would not want to play for Jim Irsay either. The more he opens his mouth, the more he seems to put his foot in his mouth. And my last point is that owners make decisions about players (good and bad) all of the time and cut players at will to save money or rebuild and go in a different direction (think Jim Irsay cutting Peyton Manning to draft Andrew Luck). If I were a player in this market, I would do exactly like any player whose lively hood is at stake- I would make the best decision that I could for myself and my family- now, only time will tell whether some of these decisions are good or bad. But I do not fault RG III or John Elway for not wanting to come to Indianapolis and play. They made the best decision for themselves and the Colts made the best decision for their team. But we should not criticize players for doing what they think is right when owners do the exact same thing in a sometimes more callous and mercenary way than the players do.
        • RG3
          For RG3, the larger DC media market (and other nearby east coast markets) likely provides better exposure for off-the-field marketing opportunities. More $$$! It's not complicated.
          Really? You dont understand it? I do. To play for the Colts, you'd be living in Indianapolis! I realize some people think we are past the Indiana no place thing; maybe in our own minds we are, but no one who has lived on the coasts, in a large metropolitan international city, and has a massive disposable income, and choice, would want to come here. Shocking that you dont understand that. You dont have to spend much time in NY, LA, SF, DC, Miami, Seattle, even Chicago to know how 60% of America feels about Indianapolis, let alone a superstar with infinite choice to go where he/she wants.
        • I do get it
          TheOldSport, I get it. Want a good steak and night life, go play for the Jets or Dolphins. Want to win a championship, go to a city where the owner is committed to winning a championship ... like Indianapolis.
        • Missing one big thing
          So a lot of posts seem to bash Indianapolis as a good choice to live. What I think these posters are missing - off season. I'm guessing that most of the younger players with disposable income likely have multiple residences. Edge had his place in South Florida. Didn't Marvin also live in Philly in the off season. I think most pro athletes wouldn't really care where they lived during the season, as that keeps them pretty busy.
        • LOL
          Everyone of you who holds up San Diego as a city with so much more to offer than Indy as far as culture, nightlife and entertainment are concerned, make me laugh! Having actually LIVED there, I can tell you that the ONLY area San Diego holds a clear advantage over Indy is WEATHER (and the fact that they are right on the coast). People from Indy have this inferiority complex that I just don't understand. This city has everything that all the big cities have relative to size (and quite a bit more than some of it's "peer" cities). And to the person who mentioned the "poverty" of Indianapolis. I can assure you that it pales in comparison to some of the "cooler" cities people are mentioning here like NYC and LA.
        • Indy
          Can't blame the players. Chief is right. Ever since Tony ruined the family race and made a mockery of open wheel racing no one wants the stench of Hulman and Indy on them
        • TheOldSport
          You slay me, man! I've actually LIVED in three of the places you named. Where have YOU lived (other than where you live now). The people with the WORST opinions of Indy almost ALWAYS seem to fit into one of the following two camps: 1) People who live here and have NEVER lived anywhere else and somehow seem to think they're missing out on things that they never even take advantage of HERE (even though we probably have it). 2) People who live somewhere else and have NEVER even BEEN to Indianapolis and feel that by bashing another city it somehow makes their city better.
        • Leaf/San Diego
          You forget, Anthony, that San Diego was only 2 years removed from a Super Bowl appearance when Leaf was in the draft. Plus, that San Diego weather made it a fairly attractive destination.
        • Chief has a lugnut loose
          Chief It is better to remain silent and thought a fool then to speak up and remove all doubt. I now know who chief really is ....... Bill Tobin :)
        • Yup
          Completely agree with Mr. G's statements! It's like Indy is 20-30 years behind the times on so many issues. I do really like Indy and I don't mind the cold weather, but I would not want to raise a family here and if I was black I definitely wouldn't stick around.
        • Playoffs???…..Playoffs???
          Very few people actually choose to live/work in Indiana. Most do so out of desperation, family strings, or inertia. The reputation of the state is deplorable. Many consider Indiana to be the back-woods hillbilly neighbor of Ohio and Illinois. And, our reputation declines from there with distance. In some parts of the country, calling someone a “Hoosier” is the worst epithet one can hurl. We are known for being uneducated, unsophisticated, intolerant, racist, and xenophobic (look it up). And our legislature does its best to uphold this reputation. This is a state that promotes the interests of business against the best interests of its citizens. We sold out our banking industry. We espouse “personal freedom” when it suits us, but pass legislation that denies women the right to manage their own bodies, denies people the right to marry whoever they love, suppresses wages, fights immigration, votes against the education of our children, pits state against capitol, and alienates everyone who is different. We pass unconstitutional laws and waste our resources fighting against modernity. Legislators who worship at the altar of low taxes attract employers who only care about low costs, deliver sub-par jobs, and whose owners and managers really don’t want to live here because it is good enough for its stupid employees but not good enough for them. There are more Fortune 500 corporate headquarters in Cincinnati than in all of Indiana, and yet we cannot understand why our children leave to make a better life. We live in the small-minded mess we make and we deserve, and which lies along the polluted and garbage strewn banks of the White River we profess to love. If you had a choice and no strings, would you live here?
        • OK I'LL BITE
          Yes, I've lived and worked in NYC, Chicago, and LA, kept a house here since 1974, retired here now. Spent many decades on the road in various Industry positions, talked to thousands of people, spent as many as 200+ days a year on the road for years. Indiana has a largely non-existent reputation across this country, if it has a reputation at all it is poor. When I started my to work at PFE in NYC and was introduced to the larger cross-functional group and was asked where I was from and said IN- someone said, Indiana, thats out West, right? Look we dont have an ocean, mountains, good weather, or a high cultural base, we have no international diversity; we do have a state where a high percentage of the population is overweight, smokes, and has no post secondary education; this is the buckle of the bible belt; we are among the last to do anything that has been adopted by every other state; most of the things we make the national news for are stupid. USA Today a few years ago ran a story on FT Wayne being acknowledged as dumbest city in America, when they interviewed a women there to comment she said- "I thought we were the fattest." Lovely. It goes on and on. The shenanigans of local politicians. Low incomes, population loss, brain drain, lack of good jobs. If you think this doesnt have an effect, and rightly so on how we are perceived by the other 342 million people in this country- you dont really get out much. Inferior? Yes. But some of us like it here or we wouldnt be here. Evidently 342 million people dont agree, and there is a reason for that. Like it or not we have very little for people who werent raised here, with family here, to come here for- and in fact that is what we in reality see happen.
        • Grass always greener
          I like the well known saying with some added perspective: "The grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Yet, the grass is greener where you mow it, fertilize it, water it, and take care of it." Wherever I am, that's where I'll make it the best place to be, until it's not. Many worlds make the world. Isn't it grand we have so many choices? -- Unknown

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