Manning or Leaf? A Lesson in Intangibles

The wildly divergent paths of the top two picks in the 1998 N.F.L. draft have become shorthand for the frustrating process of identifying character traits that lead to success.

Comments: 30

  1. Standardized tests. Naa. Hair samples, maybe.

  2. The only thing the Leaf/Manning situation proved is that the college game is much different that the pro game, and success in college is not an indicator for success in the pros.

  3. And that Manning had the maturity to handle the pressure and challenge presented by the adjustment and Leaf didn't.

  4. Also what if you just don't want to play any more. Feelings can change toward any sport/activity/relationship etc. at any undetermined point in time. It's the X factor of hiring or making draft picks.

  5. Coaches, teachers, mentors can also make a difference in somebody's success..

  6. I think once again America's puritan heritage is at display in this article.
    "Character," "good," or "bad" person, blah blah blah.
    Why can't you accept that sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't.
    Sometimes people make mistakes and they haunt them, sometimes, they recover. Sometimes they're lucky, sometimes, not!
    Has nothing to do with their "character" or whether they're "good" or "bad!"
    Plenty of bad things happen to great people every day!
    Good wins every day, and evil, too, wins every day!!!
    I was thinking about Derrick Rose today and what the Chicago Bulls might be if he was playing.
    Luck!!!
    You really have to work at it to be successful, but you better be lucky, too, especially in sport!!!
    And it doesn't help sometimes when you are in a culture that criminalizes, moralises a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Because it is not enough to say "it didn't work out." If there is something that can be learned, adjusted, changed, etc., perhaps this will lead to success the next time. From where else would we get the mantra "learn from one's mistakes"?

    Otherwise, one is insane according to Einstein's definition: performing the same act over and over and expecting a different result.

    When I interview people, the most important thing to me is to judge how a candidate's personality will fit into the group (I assume they technically can do the job; why else would I waste my time interviewing?) Hire a person with a cancerous personality onto a team, and you can destroy the team (in addition to your career). No different with Mr. Leaf.

    And, please leave the America-bashing at the door, this is a human trait to want to find out why.

  8. No offense Frea but your post is internally inconsistent. If results have nothing to do with character, as you seem to think, then what difference does it make whether America is puritanical? Who cares whether we moralize or criminalize things? If it's all luck then such other factors shouldn't matter.

    Yet they do, of course, as even you acknowledge. They matter because character matters. Ryan Leaf didn't bomb out of the NFL because he suffered a couple freak injuries a la Derrick Rose.

  9. Character counts may be a cliché but it has to be part of any evaluation. Talent is huge but having character, common sense, and a sound work ethic have to play a large part in any evaluation especially when the man in the quarterback position will more than likely be the "face" of the team.

  10. Lou Gehrig said it in the most dramatic and emotional manner possible, in his famous speech, ignoring the tragic illness he suffered when he said, "I'm the luckiest guy in the world". It's luck - through and through, all the other babble is just that.

  11. Not JUST luck.

  12. Gehrig had a lifetime BA of .342....Sir, that is not luck.

  13. Genes = luck
    Parents/upbringing = luck
    Psychology (mental toughness, dedication, resiliency, applied smarts) = luck
    Native talent = luck
    Initial opportunities = luck
    Culture = luck
    Initial geographic location = luck
    Nationality = luck
    Government we're born into = luck
    Economy we're born into = luck
    Quality of education = luck

    Most of what governs our lives is truly a complex of factors beyond our conscious or immediate control. Of course there's a give-and-take relationship between our thoughts, decisions, and behaviors and the people and world around us. But even what goes into our thoughts, decisions, and behaviors is, for the most part, not a function of input we have rationally invited into our lives.

    As a political aside, in my experience, conservatives in general have very little understanding and appreciation of the huge impact of sheer dumb luck in our lives--for good and ill--compared to liberals. In contrast, liberals (such as myself) can tend to downplay or ignore the key role that taking responsibility for one's self can play in positive outcomes for individuals and societies.

  14. How about five minutes in the Army?

  15. The army is very good at this.
    They strap 50 lbs to your back, wait until it rains, hand you a rifle, and walk you for 10 miles.
    Then the next day - they do it again.

  16. 'In some past years, the league had so many players under indictment that its games could have been carried by Court TV.'

    Citation please. You do know there are 20 teams and 53 players on each? Take 1,000 men from the overall population between the ages of 20-25, measure their 'Court TV' appearances against those of the nfl.

  17. It is difficult to see how these star college QBs, would deal with failure since up to this point, they've experienced only success at every level (aside from losing a game here or there). Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman had terrible first seasons (as starters they went 3-13, 0-11 respectively), but dealt with this failure as motivation. Others like Leaf and JaMarcus Russell crumbled in the face of their first extended experiences with failure. This is crucial.

    When I was a grad student, the best advice I ever heard about becoming a successful academic was to deal with rejection and failure (article manuscripts getting rejected, blistering reviews, etc.) since many accomplished grad students up to that point had never experienced academic failure. Do you dismiss the reviewers' often harsh criticisms of your methodology, theoretical framework, and analysis, saying they're just 'dumb', or do you carefully heed the more constructive criticisms and take them to heart and strive to make your work better to show them you have the right stuff? Some junior academics never make the 'grade' because they've been praised since junior high school and can't deal with the idea that they're not Einstein. The successful ones tend to be more humble, put their noses to the grindstone, and revise, revise, revise their papers (or for NFL rookies, practice, watch film, practice, watch, practice, and so on). This is old school advice, but then again, my favorite coaches are Lombardi and Wooden.

  18. Character,ok. But it's not going to help you throw a 15 yard out. It's always surprising,considering how much money is spent and all the stats and quants, just how much is still chance

  19. Jim Irsay, no sadly in rehab , has a habit of hiring the best personnel. Peyton's still a joy to watch even though he's in the wrong uniform. Physical skills to be sure, but a "flytrap" mind of the game itself.

  20. To boil intangibles down to "character" over-simplifies the issue. There are many busts in pro sports who were outstanding prospects in college who were good people who came from good backgrounds. But nothing prepared them for the skill level they faced at the professional level. Not to mention the mental and emotional demands that the glamor and glitz demand. I think it's comparable to perfectly competent politicians who are great governors or congressional reps who flame out when running for president, to the point of embarrassing themselves. It's simply a whole other level. In sports, these top prospects simply hit the sports equivalent of the Peter Principle. And in many cases it had everything to do with skill, or lack thereof, not character. The flipside is that there are plenty of people of very questionable character who were and are amazing at the pro level.

  21. Manning has grit, Leaf had attitude--a bad attitude.

  22. Being a lifelong Jets Fan (don't laugh), I think they should sign Sanchez for a 20 year, $100 million dollar contract because.......why not! He will ensure that the Jets continue to lose and keep fans like me following the Team. The tradition will continue.

  23. Those who congratulate themselves for choosing Manning over Leaf miss the point: the all would have chosen Leaf if Manning had not existed, and they all would have chosen Leaf as second pick at worst. The presence of Manning offered a nice contrast in the narrative, but the presence of Manning did not alter the evaluation of Leaf. No one thought that Leaf would fail, some just thought he was not as good as Manning. Take Manning out of the equation, and the lesson would be this: they all would have failed in their prediction of Leaf.

  24. People forget - but both were expecxted to be can't miss QBs.
    Manning had maturity and a work ethic and Leaf did not (remember Leaf's meltdown in the locker room at the press where he had to be dragged away by Seau).

  25. A lot of these so called intangibles, are measurable. Tebow failed because he had visual motor integration problems. He couldn't see defensive players movement, process what he saw and output it through his hands. I have a son with the same limits. But he can listen to a song and play it on his guitar. Why? Different circuits in the brain. Same for athletes.

  26. Same exact situation with my son, who has become a drummer who's a creative force on the drum kit.

  27. Mr. Haberman's analysis is a little superficial.

    Character matters so much in football not because "11, may meld into a single unit" but because 45 and more must meld into a single unit. The 11 that play on this play probably won't be the 11 that play on the next play, on both sides of the ball! There is tremendous pressure and money at stake, as well as the potential for injury. The 'melding' takes place in the locker room and one bad player regardless of their ability, can tear up a team - remember T. O. ?

  28. In all endeavors, reaching the very top depends on your work ethic as much as it does talent, and it is a rare individual who has a whole lot of both.

  29. Great piece! One (minor) quibble: you used as examples two baseball badboys to illustrate how character may or may not be tied to performance and greatness right after you nicely explained how football is trickier to analyze, reliant as it is on the whole team performing as a team. On the football field a badboy might well be the weak link that brings down the performance of the whole. On the diamond, perhaps not so much.

  30. Greetings from Cleveland as we prepare for OUR Super Bowl, the NFL Draft. It's the one thing we can look forward to for each football season. Hope truly springs eternal for football fans in Spring, as opposed to fall and winter. Speaking as a devoted Brown's fan, I can attest to endless Ryan Leaf-types who have been drafted or signed by the Brown's which have resulted in one of the worst records in sports (rivaling the Clippers) since it's rebirth in '99. But behind every 'Ryan Leaf', there is a Carmen Policy, Dwight Clark, Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Savage, and the venerable Mike Holmgren. This 'genius' took Brandon Wheeden (our Ryan Leaf) instead of Russell Wilson. Yes, I know hindsight is 20-20, but behind every failure on the field, is a failure in the front office.