November 20, 1998

QB Turning Over A New Leaf?

By Bernie Wilson

Watching the San Diego Chargers' game from the sideline put Ryan Leaf in a conciliatory mood.

The embattled rookie quarterback was upbeat Monday, and for the first time this season said he regretted the off-field incidents that contributed to his benching a week earlier.

Chargers' Ryan Leaf roams the sidelines for now. File Photo.

Instead of starting his 38th straight game dating to college, Leaf watched as fourth-year pro Craig Whelihan got his first win in eight NFL starts as the Chargers beat the Baltimore Ravens 14-13 on Sunday to improve to 4-6.

``I just wanted the team to go out and win. That's the most important thing,'' Leaf said. ``If they felt like I was holding them back in any way because of me being young and having the growing pains and things like that, then I don't want to hold them back in any way. I'm happy they won. I'm really happy for Craig to get his first win and get that monkey off his back.''

Leaf was effectively a high-priced cheerleader Sunday because he was the only Charger who didn't play. He watched the game from the sideline, holding a football under one arm and wearing a baseball cap backward.

After Whelihan threw a 47-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, Leaf practically leaped into his arms as he came off the field.

On the day he was demoted, Leaf was asked if he had any regrets about what went on this year, most notably his obscenity-laced locker room tirade at a reporter in September, and reports that he acted obnoxiously while bar-hopping during a visit to Pullman, Wash., late last month to contribute $200,000 to his alma mater, Washington State.

His answer: ``I'm never going to regret anything I ever did, and just move on and learn from it.''

Leaf denied he did anything wrong in Pullman, although reports of his behavior appeared in newspapers in San Diego, Spokane and Seattle. His blowup at the reporter was captured on videotape and shown nationally.

Leaf, who had poor games following each incident, sounded much different on Monday.

``You just regret the main things that went bad on the season,'' he said. ``You just wish they didn't happen, but you really can't do anything about them now. You wish you wouldn't have had the blowup with the reporter and you wish the allegations wouldn't be made of a positive weekend that was supposed to be in Pullman.

``You just want to make sure you learn from them and not try to even put yourself in situations like that ever again.''

Leaf, who threw just two touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in starting the first nine games, attributed his change of heart to seeing the game from a different perspective.

``I kind of got back to having fun again,'' he said, comparing it to the feeling a player gets when he starts out in college. ``Honestly, I wanted to be out there and be involved in everything, and I took everything I could away from the game, and hopefully when I get my opportunity again, we can make good things happen. But the way things are rolling right now, I want to keep that thing going.''

Whelihan will start again Sunday against Kansas City, and interim coach June Jones said Whelihan will keep the job as long as he's effective.

General manager Bobby Beathard, who said Leaf's off-field actions contributed to poor play, was glad to hear the rookie's comments.

``That's good, because more than anything we want for him to succeed,'' Beathard said. ``No question in our minds he will succeed. We're all pulling for him, so that's nice to hear.''

Also Monday, running back Natrone Means vowed to return this season despite sustaining a hairline fracture of a bone in his left foot Sunday. He'll wear a cast for 10 days to two weeks, then have more X-rays taken. He's expected to be out 3-4 weeks.

Means, third in the AFC with 883 yards, will be replaced by Terrell Fletcher, who scored the go-ahead touchdown Sunday, and rookie Tremayne Stephens, who's coming off a thigh bruise.

Linebacker Lew Bush has a strained ligament and torn cartilage in his right knee and is expected to be out a month. He said he'll try to come back as well.

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