I'll tell you what--$10 million a year. Projected as the possible No. 1 choice in the 2005 draft, he chose loyalty over bucks and came back for his senior year. In today's greedfest that's the equivalent of MAILMAN MARRIES PIT BULL. Alex Smith of Utah had the same choice, and he took the bucks. He went No. 1 instead of Leinart, to the San Francisco 49ers, for $49.5 million.
Leinart, meanwhile, went back to his $1,050-a-month scholarship stipend, his crappy two-bedroom apartment and his dented white Ford Ranger pickup. How's that for a difference?
"People can say what they want," Leinart says. "I worked my ass off for four years. This is my reward. I only need two more credits to graduate, so all I need is one easy class."
Personally, I think Leinart played us all for dopes. I've said this for years--a player can make gazillions more staying in school and becoming a star. Stars are marketable. Stars get endorsements. Stars get out of sports and get handed car dealerships and restaurants and one-hour-a-month corporate jobs.
Since he came back, Leinart's blown past football star to flush-on-the-lips celebrity. Last week a reporter from PEOPLE asked him if it's true Nick Lachey is sleeping on his couch. (The answer was no.) Us Weekly was offering USC beat writers $400 for a single quote from Leinart. How much is an Alex Smith quote going for?
Plus, Leinart will go into the NFL with another year's worth of game experience, which means he'll be better in his first three NFL seasons, which means he'll get a second contract that will dwarf the second contract he would've gotten. And if Smith got $49.5 million, what will a guy get who'll make Smith look like he has rickets?
"I know I could be living in some NFL city right now, maybe being thrown into the mix when I'm not ready," Leinart said the other day in L.A. "Instead, I'm hangin' out with my friends, cherishing my senior year.... I'm just like any other college guy."
Oh, absolutely, Matt. We all had senior years like yours. Except for needing security to get us around campus; having Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson and Lachey at our birthday parties; doing fashion photo shoots for GQ and Esquire; appearing on Jimmy Kimmel twice; having our own Internet TV show; hanging out with Maria Sharapova, Wayne Gretzky and Adam Sandler; and being linked to more hot L.A. women than Frederick of Hollywood.
But who cares? As far as I'm concerned, Leinart can't have enough winning lotto tickets fall in his soup. It's not just that he's smart, humble and loyal, it's that he stands as a skyscraper of hope for every kid crying in his bedroom after school. Leinart spent the first 14 years of his life getting picked on for being cross-eyed and fat.
"Kids can be cruel," he remembers. "They'd look at my eyes and go, 'Who are you lookin' at anyway?' They'd make fun of my fat butt. It was, like, every day."