Plenty of reasons to love Leinart's decision to stay
Posted: Tuesday January 18, 2005 4:40PM; Updated: Tuesday January 18, 2005 4:40PM
Matt Leinart was the sixth Heisman winner in USC history.
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Is it too early to nominate USC quarterback Matt Leinart as Sports Illustrated's 2005 Sportsman of the Year? Probably so, but here is a guy whose decision to stay in school for his senior season virtually guarantees that my alma mater (Notre Dame) will lose its fourth straight game to the Trojans next October. I don't care: Matt Leinart is my new sports hero.
Because of the title of this column, and because of my hardly unbiased preference for collegiate sports over pro, it's easy to dismiss my euphoria over Leinart's decision as nothing more than cheering for your home team. But, honestly, that's not it. Staying in college is not inherently better or worse than going for the bling, or buying your mom the new house with your signing bonus, etc. It's not a matter as to which is the better option. It's a matter of following your gut.
Here is what Leinart said when he announced Friday that he was staying at USC: "I think college football and this whole atmosphere here, and being with my friends and my teammates that I've been with for four years, that it's ultimately more satisfying [than going pro next year]. It will make me happier than any amount of money can make me happy."
Let's look at a few of the pros of Leinart not going pro this April:
1. He'll helm an offense that has its top two rushers (LenDale White, Reggie Bush), top two wideouts (Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith) and four of its five starting offensive linemen back. And, most important, it appears Norm Chow will return as offensive coordinator.
2. He'll have a chance to become the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner since Archie Griffin of Ohio State did it in 1974-75.
3. He'll have a chance to lead Southern Cal to an uprecedented third consecutive national title (or co-national title).
4. Chicks. Hey, let's be honest. Would you rather be the Big Man On Campus in Los Angeles (a town with a surfeit of babes and no NFL competition) or taking your lumps in San Francisco or Miami? I mean, if Wilmer Valderrama can date Lindsay Lohan, what kind of action do you think the 6-foot-5 Leinart can get in Tinseltown? That's not even mentioning the USC Song Girls.
5. Leinart is 18 credits shy from his degree. Now he'll have two semesters, plus a summer-school session, to cruise through those final six classes.
6. The University of Southern California -- and this is no small detail -- is located in southern California (cue Phantom Planet's California, opening credits of The O.C.). Not a bad place to be 22 years old.
What are the cons? Well, every sports radio yakker from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., will mention that Leinart is risking his future if he gets injured. You and I may not have as much to lose as Leinart, but you know what? It's all we have. So it should mean as much to as losing his career would mean to him. You can't live that way.
Money never buys happiness. It makes life easier, and if you're already happy, it may -- may! -- enhance your happiness. But if you think money makes you happy, see The Aviator. Or read the recent profile of Tracy McGrady in SI. Or, just think two words: Mike Tyson. (That said, I would love a raise; see, I'm already happy).
In fact, the only real downside of this Leinart drama may have been the amount of face time Mel Kiper Jr., received on ESPN last weekend. And as for that "nothing left to prove" argument, why should that be the final arbiter in Leinart's decision? I'm glad that Leinart went Van Wilder on this choice. I'm happy for him that he went with values that are in essence the very spine of the Declaration of Indepencence: "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Pretty good company to be in there, Matt.
"You heard what he said," said USC head coach Pete Carroll, a man even more ecstatic than I about Leinart's choice. "He wants to play with his teammates, he loves being here, and there's no amount of money that could take that away from him. I think that's an extraordinary statement."
So do I. And no matter what the future brings, Leinart will have the inner peace of having gone with his heart. And because he did that -- and not just because he lives where he does -- the future's so bright for young Mr. Leinart that he'll have to wear shades.
Eight in the Box
1. Big kudos to Rutgers women's hoops coach C. Vivian Stringer for her team's recent impressive string of wins. In an eight-day span, the Scarlet Knights defeated No. 8 Tennessee, No. 3 Texas (rebounding from a 16-point deficit in Austin) and No. 1 LSU. And last week, Rutgers lost by two at No. 5 Ohio State. More kudos to ESPN2's Pam Ward, who candidly noted at halftime of Monday's Texas-UConn game that "in the past, Rutgers has been painful to watch". The Scarlet Knights have -- at last -- traded in their version of smashmouth basketball for a more up-tempo, aesthetic brand of hoops. I'm just wondering why all the talking heads had to wait until Rutgers dismissed its old blueprint before commenting on how ugly it was to watch.
2. A Yahoo! Hot Jobs survey found that 40 percent of the men polled (and we all know how painful that can be) listed Ray Barone's sportswriter job (i.e., Everybody Loves Raymond) as the most desirable on TV. These people are kidding, right? I mean, off the top of my head, Paulie Walnuts (The Sopranos) has a better gig. Hang out at the Bada Bing all day, crack some skulls at night, how tough is that? If you're like me (and we all know how painful...), or in my age range, you grew up wondering if you'd rather be Oscar Madison or Hawkeye Pierce. I strayed at the last minute to Oscar, but I'll always recall that playing the board game Life, the lowest-paying starting salary was journalist and the highest was doctor.
3. Reader Omar Ramos points out another distinguished Seinfeld alumnus, Don McManus from "The Race" episode ("Race him, Jerry!") now plays Bart "Lowball" Rogers on ESPN's Tilt. I do hope the script writers have a little fun with that nom de guerre.
4. Speaking of which, don't you love how they refer to it now as "gaming" instead of "gambling"? The omission of "bl" is a lot of "bs".
5. Anyone catch the end of the Indiana-Purdue men's hoops game on Saturday? Had that been an NCAA tourney contest, or if these schools were where they should be (which is to say, ranked), Jay Bilas would have overnighted the tape to the Instant Classic folks. First, the Hoosiers received a gift foul call with .09 left in the first overtime and Marshall Strickland hit both free throws -- even though Indiana coach Mike Davis wanted Strickland to purposely miss the second -- to take a 63-61 lead.
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Then Boilermakers coach Gene Keady called the ol' "USSR vs. USA '72 Olympics Hail Mary" play, and not only did Purdue's Carl Landry drain the bucket, but he was fouled. In fact, the ball left Landry's hands after time expired, but since the foul was committed with time left on the clock, the bucket counted. So Purdue, inside Mackey Arena, was a free throw away from a miracle win, but Landry missed the shot. The Hoosiers (7-7) took care of business in the second overtime to upend 4-10 Purdue 75-73.
6. Apropos of nothing, I'm nominating Horace Wells as the greatest dentist who ever lived. Why? First, he's the only dentist I know who has a life-sized statue erected in his honor (it's located in Hartford's Bushnell Park, near the state capitol building). Wells lived in the 19th century and I'm willing to wager that nobody you've never heard of has done more to ease the pain of mankind that he. I'm not going to divulge the secret here but if you want to read a fascinating book about Wells and his contribution to medicine, check out Ether Day by Julie M. Fenster. Someone in Hollywood should jump on this story and invite me to the premiere. You're welcome.
6. Last week I was lucky enough to attend Mock Rock in Ann Arbor, Mich. What is Mock Rock? It's an annual variety show in which different University of Michigan athletic teams perform in order to raise money for charity. On a snowy Tuesday night, more than 1,000 people crammed the Michigan Theater to watch 16 different teams perform. Celebrity judges included Wolverines football players Steve Breaston, Michael Hart and Pierre Woods and Olympians Michael Phelps and Elise Ray (gymnastics). There will be more on this in the first issue this semester of SI On Campus. I just want to mention it here because it's such a good idea that it would be nice if other schools picked up on it.
7. This just in (which means it isn't): Leo DiCaprio to star in biopic about Rush Limbaugh. Working title: The Bloviator.
8. Yes, Huskies frosh Charde Houston rained down 25 points in UConn's 73-57 defeat of Texas on Martin Luther King Day, and, yes, she's from California (the state's all time girls prep scoring leader, in fact), but please don't compare her to Diana Taurasi just yet. Nobody I've seen in women's hoops could pass like D, shoot like D, or perform in the clutch like D (although, as Geno Auriemma would be the first to tell you, a lot of people could play "D" better than D; that said, Taurasi is a super sneaky shot-blocker). During the telecast, ESPN's Ann Myers posited that had All-Americans Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph not suffered season-ending injuries in 2001, UConn would be in search of its sixth straight national title this spring. I agree. In fact, I'd argue that in terms of overall talent (Taurasi, Abrosimova, Ralph, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones, Tamika Williams, Kelly Schumacher, Kennitra Johnson, Maria Conlon, et al), the Huskies' 2001 edition -- the one that lost to Notre Dame in the Women's Final Four in St. Louis -- is the best team Auriemma has had.