August 21, 1998

Leaf VS. Manning, Round 1, Coming Saturday

By Bernie Wilson

By a coincidence of scheduling, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf will square off just four months after they were made the top two picks in the NFL draft.

Neither quarterback is looking forward to the inevitable comparisons that will come when Manning's Indianapolis Colts play host to Leaf's San Diego Chargers Saturday night.

``I think it's the media's big ploy - here's your big push to get the No. 1 and No. 2 picks playing against each other,'' Leaf said. ``But they're not going to be playing against each other. It's the Chargers against the Colts. He's not playing safety or linebacker against me, so it really has no relevance to what's going on out there.''

This game was scheduled a few years back, long before the Colts and Chargers turned out to be so bad that they earned such high draft picks.

``He and I aren't competing against one another,'' Manning said, after leading the Colts to a 30-27 victory Monday night in Cincinnati. ``People are going to make comparisons and you can't pretend it's not there. But I'm not trying to outdo him and he's not trying to outdo me.

``All we're trying to do is help our teams get back on the winning track. That's where he and I have a lot in common.''

Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard and safety Rodney Harrison couldn't resist needling Leaf on Monday.

``It's the biggest week in the NFL - Leaf vs. Manning!'' Beathard said when he saw Leaf talking to reporters.

Harrison gave Leaf similar treatment, then said: ``I pick Ryan.''

The Colts had the NFL's worst record last year, 3-13, and the Chargers were 4-12. Even so, Beathard had to made a blockbuster deal with Arizona just to move from third to second in the draft and be assured of getting whichever franchise QB the Colts didn't take.

And by finishing last in their divisions, the Colts and Chargers earned a regular-season matchup - Oct. 4, also at Indianapolis.

Leaf and Manning are going to get comparisons even from the NFL's public relations machine.

In the NFL's preseason release, there's a section with this headline: ``Passing The Torch: QB Class of '98.'' It's noted that the Oct. 4 game will be just the second ``battle'' in NFL history of rookie QBs drafted 1-2 in the same year. The other was on Sept. 19, 1993, when second-pick Rick Mirer's Seattle Seahawks beat first-pick Drew Bledsoe's New England Patriots 17-14.

Manning and Leaf get to do it twice. One game doesn't count, the other will.

Leaf said he's looking forward to the game for two reasons - he gets to play into the second half, and he might be booed by fans who remember how he spoke so openly before the draft of his desire to be picked by the Chargers.

``I'm looking forward to having to go to a place now where the fans aren't going crazy every time you fall down or if you complete a pass,'' said Leaf, who's given Chargers fans something to look forward to by leading San Diego to exhibition wins over San Francisco and St. Louis. ``I'll probably like the boos a little bit. They get you fired up a little more.''

Leaf said he spoke with Manning right before training camp opened.

``Every time we're around each other we sit and talk about our families, get to know what's going on in our lives, which is a great release because we're both in such similar situations. It's nice to have somebody like that to be able to talk to.''

Manning feels the same way.

``Ryan and I have a lot in com-mon,'' Manning said. ``We're playing a lot as rookies and have a lot of pressure put on us. He and I are in the same boat. We talked about it way back. All we can do is the best we can and try to learn on the job this year.''

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