If you could write a letter to your younger self, when would you schedule it to arrive, and what would it say?

I would wager that most of us would surely address our teenage or early-twenties selves. After all, there is something formative about the years when we enter adulthood. It’s the time when we really start to establish who we are, and where our decisions have consequences that last a lifetime. For some of us, we’d probably have some general words of wisdom, maybe some encouragement that would help lift our spirits during a tumultuous stage of life.

For others, it would be a dire warning:

The sad thing is, a good many live lives that are just that, a warning to others. Their letter might just be a bit more tragic:

That’s you, young Ryan Leaf, at his absolute finest: arrogant, boorish and narcissistic. You think you’re on top of the world and that you’ve got all the answers.

Well I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the truth is….

You don’t know shit.

Ryan Leaf was riding high on April 18, 1998. He had just finished a wildly successful career at Washington State, setting a conference record for touchdown passes and leading the Cougs to their first Rose Bowl berth since 1931, and was now the number two pick overall in the NFL Draft, behind only one Peyton Manning (you might have heard of him).

Leaf’s NFL career was a dud almost from the moment he took the field for the San Diego Chargers. He would be plagued with injury and consistently underperform his admittedly high expectations. While his draft rival’s star would rise, his would fall. Hard.

April 2, 2012

Leaf is arrested after midnight and returned to county jail. He now faces three counts of felony drug possession, two counts of felony burglary and two counts of misdemeanor theft. He appeared via video conference before Judge Dirk Sandefur at Cascade County District Court. He remains held in county jail after the Department of Corrections placed a 72-hour no-bond hold on him, which was subsequently extended to 30 days.

And that was the last I’d heard from him, his life being an utter trainwreck of disappointment. And it was the last I’d thought I would hear from him.

As a WSU alum who watched the guy play in person, I remember how brightly his star shined on the hills of the Palouse. He and coach Mike Price were rock stars in that sleepy college town, and among the Cougar nation. The next in a line of great quarterbacks that numbered Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, and Drew Bledsoe in its ranks, and the redeemer of a WSU football program that was for a lifetime an also-ran, he had become himself an also-ran.

And it would come to pass that this also-ran, this fallen star, would find his redemption:

But I’m kind of glad things worked out the way they did. I know that sounds cliché, but if I could go back, I wouldn’t change anything. Not even the decisions that took me to rock bottom. I would want everything to be exactly the same, because today, I’m happy with my life and with who I am.

Ryan Leaf found his purpose. It is, in part, to be a warning for others. A caution against the arrogance of youth, the pride that comes with talent and stardom, and the destructive path of substance abuse.

So what’s in your letter? As someone who hasn’t had much in the way of life tragedy, and whose meandering path of life has been a happy one, its understandable I wouldn’t want to change a thing. That someone like Ryan Leaf would say the same is profound.

6 comments

  1. Dear 17 Year Old Thrill,

    Since you’ve clearly decided that you know better than everyone else around you who keeps giving you good advice, I figure I’ll take a few moments to help you pull our head out of our ass.

    First of all, do not dump Whisper. She’s smart, cute, nice, and crazy about you. You KNOW you’re wrong to brush her off. And trust me, she’s far better than the next few lunatics you’re going to end up sticking your dick into otherwise. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. You are in fact good enough for her, you pussy. I can’t remember when the word “emo” first comes into common usage, but you’re being that. Stop it.

    Second, avoid the Army. I know you’re all excited to enlist this year, but you’re not a good fit. Tell the recruiting sergeant, “Thanks, but no thanks.” He’s a good man and I remember him fondly, so be nice about it, but firmly say no. As I recall, you think that the military is going to help your character. You think it will give some discipline and make you stronger. You’re looking to build your character.

    Well, here’s what happens with that. It will actually make you less disciplined, more defiant, and leave you utterly disillusioned by the time you get out. Seriously, I cannot figure out for the life of me how you will avoid any repercussions for your multiple and blatant infractions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but the fact that you will only ends up making you into a complete jackass who exercises almost no restraint on his absurd risk taking and arrogance. You’ll become an angry young man and you’ll hurt a lot of people. Pretty much everyone will be sick of your shit by 2004.

    You’re an intellectual, scholarly, kind, honorable, moral, and compassionate young man. Stay that way. The military will knock those qualities right out of you. I know it’s hard to hear, but you should aim to be less Han Solo and more Luke Skywalker.

    Next, quit fucking up in school. You can and should be putting forth the effort to get straight A’s. I know you think that you can drop out since you’re going to the Army, but the Army won’t take you unless you graduate anyway. By the time you figure this out, you’re going to have to work your ass off just to finish senior year with enough credits to graduate. Night school. Really. And don’t even get me started on the girl you’ll meet there. Again, refer to the second paragraph. You go with her instead; you’ll avoid a LOT of bullshit.

    Finish high school and plan on going to community college afterward. It’s easy, believe it or not. I don’t have any specific career recommendations, but you actually do have a knack for computer science and accounting. Either one will give you safe career choices.

    What else?

    Be nice to Mom. She’s still around in 2017 (you wouldn’t fucking believe who the president is, by the way), but you’ll literally break her heart if you ignore me. Whatever it is you think you’re supposed to be doing with your life, you will learn one day that nothing matters if you don’t put family first.

    In that vein, make amends with your dad. He’s a great guy and when you start to accept him for his quirks and who he is, life will start to make more sense. Believe me, he’ll be a good influence when you let him.

    Continue to avoid drugs. That’s actually one of the few things you do right. Don’t start smoking and try not to love booze too much. It makes you fat.

    Get some hobbies. You have this horrible tendency to find really destructive things to do when you’re bored and idle. Keep yourself busy. One of your biggest regrets later on will be that you never learned music. Go for it.

    Also, get a haircut. You look ridiculous.

    All that aside, you can ignore me if you want. You do end up marrying well (on your second try) and you are well-respected now that you’ve quit being a vicious and arrogant prick. I just want you to know that you can get to that point without suffering–and causing others to suffer–needlessly. Take the easy path.

    Sincerely,

    40 Year Old Thrill

    PS: All those Transformers in the boxes in the basement, please make sure you save those. Your son will want to play with them one day. He’s a lot like you.

  2. hey dumbass,
    Amber does like you, just dont stand there , when you are in the student lounge alone with her…
    Forge your old mans name on the Stock papers, move every thing to Microsoft and apple, the ass kicking will be worth it.
    Go to Columbia , learn coding and software. and by the time you graduate the stock in MS and apple will pay off .
    no weed, mmkay?
    Quit reading the Star Trek Crap, read more classics.
    Do not get drunk and drive your mustang into a bridge, in fact just dont drive after drinking period.
    do not dance with that Ho, in the bar in Hannibal, better yet dot even go out with cheryl. she a ho too, i dont care how good she gives head, its not worth it.
    do not sell that King Cobra revolver.. ir worth 4X what you bought it for!or that AMT Automag III.
    Take the chance and go to that job offer in Texas, or the one in Australia.. woth a shot.
    quit being a moody lame ass. learn to dance, exercise more,and for gods sake have someone else with better taste pick your clothes out.
    oh yes DO NOT SELL the starwars toys…

  3. Dear 18 Year Old WVR: Do not bet on the Padres in the 1984 world series. Stay away from the stoners and spend more time with your more nerdy friends. Pick a two year college that’s closer to home. Stay away from the ho at Target & get back together with that redhead you knew. Get out of California earlier.

  4. Mike Ness could get, like, three songs out of this comment. I swear, if the two of us had grown up in the same town, we might have managed to completely wreck civilization together.

  5. HA! and that only covers stuff till i was 25 or so!…

    And yes im sure we could have raised some hell, or left a few craters..

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