Matt Leinart: “I haven’t proven anything. Perception is perception. Football has always been number one to me.”July 8, 2011 – 9:00 am by Steven Cuce
Matt Leinart had the life that every quarterback coming up the pop warner circuit would dream of. Leinart had all the accolades while playing in Southern California including a Heisman Trophy, Manning Award, Johnny Unitas Award, Walter Camp Award and two Archie Griffin Awards. The USC quarterback lead his squad to two National Championship in 2003 and 04, although the NCAA would like to let you know that the 2004 title has been stripped because of Reggie Bush’s off the field actions. Leinart stills counts 2004 as a title year.
In the 2006 NFL Draft, Leinart was taken number ten overall by the Arizona Cardinals where he looked to pick up right where he left off at USC. That wasn’t in the cards for the so-called “party boy” coming out of college. He was beaten out by Kurt Warner during his tenure in Arizona and last year, the first year Warner had left professional football, Leinart looked like he had his chance to shine, but Ken Whisenhunt didn’t see enough during training camp and cut him. Leinart signed a one-year deal in Houston where he held down the backup role in what he calls “a learning experience,” in the following interview with ESPN Los Angeles. I would like to believe that most football fans would call Leinart a “bust,” but he’s got an answer for all the critics. In Los Angeles, Matt Leinart was king of the world as USC was really like the professional football team of the city. Now Leinart looks to rejuvenate his career once the lockout is lifted. Wherever he may go.
Matt Leinart joined ESPN Los Angeles with Mason and Ireland (Brian Kamenetzky in for Steve Mason) to discuss what he is doing during the NFL lockout, his playing status if the lockout were to be lifted, being a “bust” at this stage of his career, his image of being a “party guy” changing and his reaction when the NCAA lifted USC’s 2004 National Championship trophy.
What are you doing with this lockout? Are you working out? Are you taking advantage of this rest time?
“I think a lot of everything. Obviously with this year it’s been a bizarre off-season. It’s been nice to be home and see my son and hang out with him and be with my family, but at the same time I think for me it’s just always being prepared. Always being ready, throwing a lot and working out every day and just staying ready, so that’s what I’ve been doing, but I’m just ready. I’m ready to be back and just kind of get this thing going and whatever is laid in front of me I’m just ready to attack it and move on and get this season going.”
What is your status if the lockout were to be lifted? Are you still playing for Houston?
“I am a free agent. It’s a little tricky based on when the new agreement gets in place and what this season is going to fall under. The old rules? The new rules? All that kind of stuff, but technically I’m a free agent. I signed a one-year deal with Houston going into last season and I enjoyed my time there very much. It was a weird year. Obviously getting released and going to Houston and just being a backup. I used it as an learning year. It just kind of built my confidence back up and obviously things in Arizona didn’t work out the way I thought and probably a lot of people thought, but that happens to a lot of guys in their career where one place may not be a great place for them or a great fit, but another place is. I thought Houston was a small and good stepping stone for me to get my career back on track and get a chance to compete somewhere and get that opportunity to start. We’ll see what happens. Your guess is as good as mine to see what happens, but I’m excited.”
When people call you a “bust” at this stage of your career what do you say to that?
“I’ve heard everything. I’ve heard everything. I’ve seen everything. For me I haven’t proven anything, so I haven’t proven that I could play game in and game out. I understand that. I believe I can play and I’m not one to make excuses. I’ve never made an excuse with my time in Arizona. It just didn’t work out for whatever reason. Those are reasons people outside of the organization won’t understand, but it didn’t work out and it wasn’t a right fit, so you move on. You kind of look at the timeline of what has happened to me and with having a pretty good rookie year and the second year getting the injury and Kurt Warner played himself into the Hall of Fame in the last 3 years. There’s not a lot I can do about that. I battled with a Hall of Famer two training camps in a row. I thought I competed as well as he did and obviously Kurt was a great player. He took us to a Super Bowl. I truly believe he got himself into the Hall of Fame those last couple of years. Last year with everything that happened it just didn’t work out. I said what I said about the situation and I moved on, so there’s people thought I never got a fair shot. People that think I can’t play. There’s a lot of things. For me I’ve worked hard this off-season and I’m always work hard. I’m always ready. I’m always prepared and like I said it’s just always about being a quarterback, but being the right situation. For me hopefully that situation comes up this year and I can thrive and show I belong in the league and I can play because I know I can and that’s what I plan on doing.”
You were accused of being a party guy. Anytime you went out your picture was taken. For the last couple of years that has been taken away. Was that a conscious effort on your part? Did you try to tone it down? Your image hasn’t been as big of an issue? Why is that you think?
“You hit it on the head. You look at where I was in college and I said it many times USC was the pro football of L.A. and we were on top. Myself, Reggie [Bush], and other guys on the team it was kind of wherever we went that’s how we were treated. People would say ‘Oh there are USC guys. There is Matt. There is Reggie.’ For me I was a twenty, twenty-one year old kid and I’ve always remained the same. I’ve remained humble. I’ve always worked hard, but at that time it was kind like wherever we went it was a story, whether it was good or bad. It didn’t really matter. There are a few things I think I have I learned. I wouldn’t take back much of it because I’ve learned from everything. Perception is perception. One person can think one thing of me and that can escalate and then 1,000 people jump on the bandwagon. It may not even be true and that’s something that I think everyone realized that the media does in this day and age, but like I said I didn’t go out very often, but when I did something was always said. It was kind of like it felt like bad luck. I didn’t even do anything, but they are saying this. I learned and made a decision where you know what it’s not even worth it because football has always been number one to me. It has always been most important whether people thought it wasn’t. You can ask any of my teammates I played with me and my coaches have always thought I worked hard. Plus you grow up and you mature and you just kind of move forward. I think it’s the simple, simple thing of just growing up, but like you said if I would have went to a Michigan or Alabama or anywhere else no one would have said anything, so I think being in the L.A. market and for us the kind of run we had in college that was kind of set in stone and we were perceived as one way.”
What was your reaction when the NCAA lifted your 2004 National Championship trophy so that you’re not the champion anymore?
“Pretty sure we did though [win the 2004 National Championship]. Oh man it just doesn’t bother me. I mean it’s 6-7 years ago. Like I did in an interview when that all came down, it’s like listen we did what we did on the football field. Whatever took place outside of the field had no affect on our players. It had no affect on Reggie Bush. He didn’t take drugs or steroids to enhance his performance. He was a great football player as we all know. That was it. We beat every football team that we played handily and we beat Oklahoma in the National title game and it’s simple. The title can be stripped from us. Whatever you want to call it. We’re not in the record books, but everyone knows what happened and I don’t want to sound cocky about it, but that’s just what happened and people want to make a big deal about it, but so what? All the guys on that team, the coaches and the USC family knows what happened. We have our rings. We have all the newspaper clippings. We have everything we can show. I think people were just ready to move on.”
Listen to Matt Leinart on 710 ESPN Los Angeles here [Podcast opens with interview to lead off]