How did it feel
losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl?
pretty bad." (The rest of his answer was drowned out by boos from other
What went wrong in
the Bears game?
know how to finish them."
That was Leinart's
G-rated way of describing one of the biggest choke jobs in recent NFL history.
The Cardinals, 1-4 going into a Monday Night Football home game against
undefeated and eventual NFC champion Chicago, blew a 23-3 late third-quarter
lead as the Bears scored touchdowns on a pair of fumble recoveries by the
defense and a punt return. With Arizona trailing 24-23 in the final minute,
Leinart, in his second start, drove his team into field-goal range, only to
watch normally reliable Neil Rackers miss a 40-yard attempt. When the game
ended, Leinart angrily hurled his helmet across the field. In the locker room
coach Dennis Green glared at his passer while lecturing the Cardinals about
their poor attitude.
The helmet toss
wasn't surprising to those who know Leinart best. "When Matt was a kid, his
mother and grandmother stopped playing board games with him because he was such
a bad loser," Leinart's father, Bob, recalls. "He'd cheat and whine and
throw cards or Monopoly pieces when he'd lose." Panique says the
quarterback once threw a Ping-Pong paddle at him after dropping a contentious
game. Adds Bron Heussenstamm, a professional surfer who befriended Leinart
after returning to USC to finish school, "Everyone says, 'Matt's a
laid-back California guy,' but he's the most competitive person ever. One day
we were over at [actor] Wilmer Valderrama's house, and Wilmer's got a
Pop-a-Shot game. We found out that one of our friends had the record of, like,
90 points, so Matt goes, 'F--- this. I'm going to break it.' He spends an hour
trying out about six different [shooting] techniques--two hands, high shots,
underhand, bank shots--and figures out what works best. He keeps going until he
93," Leinart interrupts.
those around him, Leinart usually wins. Last year he suffered as many losses as
a starter--seven--as he had at Mater Dei High (in Santa Ana, Calif.) and USC
combined. "Growing up, every one of Matt's teams won," Bob Leinart
says. "Early on, his success as an athlete was what saved him when kids
were really cruel."
Leinart was born
cross-eyed, had corrective surgery at 18 months and wore glasses until his
early teens. He was also overweight. Kids called him names such as Four Eyes
and Shamu. Says Panique, "He was not very fashionable. He was the 180-pound
Urkel." By eighth grade Leinart had shed most of his flab while sprouting
to 6' 2 1⁄2"--at which point his older brother, Ryan, nicknamed him
Gheorghe Muresan, after the former NBA center, "because he was so big and
After being teased
so much, it's no wonder Leinart relates well to kids, though his father says it
comes naturally. "His mother [Linda] worked as a secretary for the
principal of a school for special-ed kids," Bob says. "Even when he was
eight or nine, Matt would go and talk to them--and these were kids who weren't
easy to talk to." Having a child of his own came earlier than expected for
Leinart, whose son, Cole, was born last October and lives with his mother in
the L.A. area. "Matt and I have chosen to live different lifestyles, and
all I can do is raise Cole to be a strong, grounded little boy," Cameron
told the Los Angeles Times in a written statement earlier this month.
"Being a parent is a full-time job, and Matt's schedule doesn't allow him
to be around much."