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Chargers’ QB Turns Over New Leaf

November 17, 1998

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A Sunday afternoon on the sideline left embattled rookie quarterback Ryan Leaf sounding like he’s learning something from his demotion.

Leaf was upbeat Monday afternoon, and for the first time this season said he regretted the off-field incidents that contributed to his benching last Monday.

Leaf, who threw just two touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in starting the first nine games, was replaced Sunday by Craig Whelihan. The fourth-year pro got his first win in eight NFL starts as the Chargers beat the Baltimore Ravens 14-13 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 on Sunday because he was the only Charger who didn’t play. He watched the game from the sideline, holding a ball 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 had gone 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 has 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 sounded much differently 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, 22, 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. ``I finally got to see that perspective again. I was fired up for that game on Sunday, I had that ball in my hand the whole game.

``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 again. But the way things are rolling right now, I want to keep that thing going.″

Leaf had started 37 straight games, including four exhibitions this year, dating to 1995 at Washington State. Whelihan will start again Sunday against Kansas City, and likely 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 in some games, was glad to hear of Leaf’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.

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.

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