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Are You Ready for Your Close-Up Mr. Leinart?
Michael Silver
July 23, 2007
The quarterback with the golden arm and the Entourage-like band of buddies owns the spotlight. Now Matt Leinart has to lead the long-suffering Cardinals out of the darkness
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July 23, 2007

Are You Ready For Your Close-up Mr. Leinart?

The quarterback with the golden arm and the Entourage-like band of buddies owns the spotlight. Now Matt Leinart has to lead the long-suffering Cardinals out of the darkness

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How did it feel losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl?

"It felt pretty bad." (The rest of his answer was drowned out by boos from other campers.)

What went wrong in the Bears game?

"We didn't 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 gets 91."

"It was 93," Leinart interrupts.

Fortunately for 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 hairy."

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."

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