San Diego Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf had to be forced away from a verbal confrontation with a heckling fan Thursday, the latest episode in his short but troubled NFL career.
The tense situation came the same day USA Today quoted Leaf as saying he probably won't be with the Chargers when his contract becomes voidable after the 2000 season.
"I don't think I'll be around long enough to win the community back over," the second-year quarterback said.
The fan, 32-year-old Sean Peck, had been heckling Leaf during the Chargers' combined workout with the Miami Dolphins, including singing lyrics from the song Lonesome Loser by the Little River Band.
Leaf underwent surgery on his right shoulder early in training camp, which could force him to miss the season, and has been reduced to just watching practices.
Several minutes after practice ended, Leaf was walking across the practice field with one of his brothers, heading away from the grandstands at UC San Diego, when Peck let loose with a verbal barrage.
"Hey, Ryan, you're the worst draft choice in NFL history. You make Heath Shuler look like an All-Star. You're a loser. Go talk to Jimmy (Johnson) and try to get a job next year," he said.
Leaf calmly walked back across the field, asking offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and security guards to come with him.
Leaf motioned at Peck, saying, "What's wrong, man, have I hurt you?"
Peck, wearing a Chargers cap and shirt, jumped up, hustled down the bleachers and came within a few feet of Leaf.
"You hurt me, you hurt all of us," Peck said. "You have no commitment."
If it had been most any other player, the incident might have been quickly forgotten. But it just happened to involve Leaf, the once-promising quarterback who was booed by San Diego fans just four games into his disastrous rookie season.
The Chargers weren't about to let it get out of hand.
Leaf, who is 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, was forced back by Chryst and defensive backs coach Rod Perry. Chargers spokesman Scott Yoffe repeatedly said, "No, don't do it, Ryan. Don't do it."
Leaf left the field and declined comment as he got into a convertible Mercedes and drove off.
Leaf "was passionate," Chryst said. "I think he wanted to just engage him, `Hey, my family's around,' You know. I can't put words into his mouth."
"I think he just wanted to have a heated conversation," Peck said later.
Peck said he's a lifelong Chargers fan as well as a singer for a heavy metal band.
"I'm 'Joe fan' speaking out for the people and we feel betrayed," Peck said.
Several witnesses said they heard Peck commenting about "wanting a lawsuit" as Leaf approached. Peck later said he was joking.
Early in his rooke season, Leaf's obscenity-laced locker room tirade against a reporter was captured on videotape and shown nationally. Thursday's confrontation also was caught by TV cameras.
Despite Leaf's comments to USA Today, general manager Bobby Beathard said the Chargers want Leaf to be here the duration of the five-year, $31.25 million contract he signed after being taken with the second pick in the 1998 draft.
"I'm certain there's a high degree of frustration with Ryan" because of his shoulder injury, Beathard said.
"I think it's been said 100 times, everybody knows he's dug a pretty deep hole, but we have confidence he'll get out of it and play football. We want him to play football in San Diego. We don't want it to be someplace else."
Despite being benched after nine games, and throwing 15 interceptions with just two touchdown passes, Leaf met the criteria to have his contract voided after the third year. He was in for at least 35 percent of the offensive plays and the Chargers (5-11) won one more game than they did the previous year.
However, he won't be totally free to leave. The Chargers can hang onto him various ways, including paying him a $4 million bonus to activate the fourth and fifth years.
Leaf will be a restricted free agent after the third year, meaning he can receive offer sheets from other teams. The Chargers can either match an offer and keep him, or let him go and receive draft-choice compensation.
If Leaf didn't receive any offers, he could play out his fourth year and leave as an unrestricted free agent or, if he has a good year, the Chargers could keep him by designating him their franchise player.
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