Matt Leinart is one of the best quarterbacks in USC Trojans football history.
He led the Trojans to back-to-back national titles and won the 2004 Heisman Trophy.
Regrettably, his NFL football career was a far different story.
He never got to show his true potential which made him the 10th overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft.
When his pro football career fizzled, fans and experts alike considered him one of the biggest busts in recent memory.
Fortunately, Leinart got a second lease on life after football.
Even though his NFL career didn’t turn out the way Leinart had hoped, he’s the epitome of making it big somewhere else.
Matthew Stephen Leinart was born in Santa Ana, CA on May 11, 1983.
He was born with strabismus, a condition more commonly known as “cross-eyes.”
Leinart’s left eye was not aligned properly with his right.
He had to undergo eye-muscle surgery at just two years of age.
He underwent another surgery just before he entered high school.
Since Leinart was a toddler, he has been visiting his opthalmologist, Dr. Florencio Ching, twice a year.
When Leinart was growing up, he got pudgy and wore thick glasses.
His friends made fun of him incessantly, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Mike Berardino.
Leinart told Berardino in 2005 it was hard enduring their taunts and jeers.
“Wearing glasses is one thing, but being cross-eyed is another. The really kind of stunk, to be blunt.”
“It was tough for me growing up…with cruel children. I had to battle through that.”
“When I see people like that (with strabismus), I feel for them because I was in their shoes when I was younger.”
He went on to describe his formative years from fourth- to seventh-grade as “a physically awkward time” to People.com’s Jason Duaine Hahn in September 2018.
During that time, Leinart lost count of the time he came home crying.
Football Blasts From The Past
20 yrs ago this wk future Heisman winner Matt Leinart had 401 yds pass for Mater Dei in 31-28 loss to DeLaSalle (win streak nearly done at 102)& David Koral set natl record 764 yds passing.@ocvarsity @CIFLACS @steveclarkson https://t.co/dlcjWeoRQP pic.twitter.com/yxeGTycChn
— Cal-Hi Sports (@CalHiSports) September 28, 2020
Leinart shook off the bullying and made his sports his outlet.
Sports became therapeutic for him.
Leinart tapped into his athletic prowess and eventually became a two-sport star in football and basketball at Mater Dei High School.
During his junior year, Leinart led the Mater Dei Monarchs to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division I co-championship.
That same year, he was also proclaimed the Serra League’s Offensive Most Valuable Player.
Leinart threw for an impressive 2,870 yards and 28 touchdowns during his senior season at Mater Dei.
Because of Leinart’s outstanding play under center, he earned California Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a senior.
Matt Leinart was about to break into the college ranks where he would spend the best years of his football-playing days.
College Career at USC
Many people remember Matt Leinart’s storied college career with the USC Trojans.
It turns out he almost played for a different college football program.
Still unsure about committing to USC, Leinart visited Norman, OK sometime during the winter of 2000.
It was around that time when Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma Sooners were preparing for the Florida State Seminoles in the 2001 BCS National Championship game.
Unfortunately, Leinart didn’t like Norman, OK.
He wound up at a Michigan Wolverines team camp where he knew several players including Dave Terrell and Bennie Joppru.
Happy 38th Birthday to Matt Leinart!
He had a LEGENDARY career at USC 👇
• 2 National Championships
• 3-time All-American
• 37-2 record
• Set 16 USC records and 11 Pac-10 records
• College Football Hall of Famer pic.twitter.com/BnfRQ43rET
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) May 11, 2021
Leinart told The Ryan Russillo Podcast (via The Detroit News‘ Matt Charboneau) in May 2020 he passed out at a cafe in Ann Arbor, MI that same week:
“Any Michigan alum that’s gonna listen to this will know what I’m talking about, it was just their bar.”
“The football guys like ran that place and I got so wasted. I’ll never forget.”
“I passed out right there, this 17-year-old kid, this big-time recruit trying to get a scholarship, They had to carry me out of Rick’s Cafe.”
Despite the hilarious episode, Leinart eventually regained his bearings and threw with Wolverines quarterback John Navarre and some of their wide receivers several days later.
Leinart turned in a great performance.
Then-Wolverines head football coach Lloyd Carr offered him a scholarship.
According to Charboneau, Leinart fell in love with Michigan.
His best friend’s brother attended Michigan.
He also cringed at the thought of attending USC because it was mired in mediocrity at the time.
However, his mother Linda was opposed to the idea of her son flying out some two thousand miles from home.
“You’ll never make it there,” she told him while breaking down in tears (via The Detroit News).
His mom’s instincts prevailed.
Matt Leinart became a USC Trojan.
Leinart redshirted during his freshman campaign in 2002.
He was one of starter Carson Palmer’s backups.
The year-long layoff hardly affected Leinart’s performance on the field.
Leinart won the starting quarterback job at the conclusion of the Trojans’ spring practice in 2003.
— CFB Legends (@CFBLegends) December 24, 2015
As a redshirt sophomore, he thew for a gaudy 3,556 yards and 38 touchdowns in 13 games during his memorable 2003 NCAA season
Leinart played like a man possessed as the season wound down.
He passed for 2,632 yards and 30 touchdowns with just three interceptions in USC’s last nine games in 2003, per USCTrojans.com.
Leinart’s best game of the season came against the Trojans’ nemesis, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, on October 18, 2003.
He passed for 351 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions in the 45-14 romp over the Irish.
Leinart pulled off the improbable in a 43-23 rout of the Washington Huskies a week later.
He produced the exact same stat line he had against Notre Dame.
It was that kind of season for Matt Leinart.
His exemplary play helped the Trojans win 12 of their 13 games in 2003.
The pinnacle of USC’s season was their much-anticipated 2004 Rose Bowl matchup against the team Matt Leinart almost played for – the Michigan Wolverines.
Leinart passed for 327 yards and three touchdowns during the game.
He also showed some versatility by catching wide receiver Mike Williams’ 15-yard pass with 3:44 remaining in the third quarter.
Leinart won Rose Bowl MVP honors after he led the Trojans to a 28-14 victory over the Wolverines.
Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer & OJ's Heismans. The 2004 Rose Bowl trophy and Marcus Allen's jersey… pic.twitter.com/uCJ3vQwTKa
— Renato (@RPMSports18) August 6, 2014
The USC Trojans were the kings of college football in 2003, thanks in large part to Matt Leinart.
Not only did he lead USC to the national title, but he also became just the second sophomore to earn the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors, per USCTrojans.com.
The Stanford Cardinal’s John Elway earned the distinction 23 years earlier.
Leinart was also an All-Pac-10 First Team, CollegeFootballNews.com All-American First Team, and SI.com All-American Second Team selection.
He also earned ESPN’s All-Pac-10 MVP award and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Matt Leinart was just getting started.
If his redshirt sophomore year was memorable, his redshirt junior campaign was one for the ages.
Leinart turned in another great performance, passing for 3,322 yards, 33 touchdowns, and just six interceptions in 13 appearances during the 2004 NCAA season.
He also ran for three touchdowns for good measure, per USCTrojans.com.
With a passer rating of 156.5, Leinart was the most prolific passer in the Pac-10.
He also ranked seventh in the nation in that regard.
Leinart pulled off the feat without two of the Trojans’ best wideouts from the year before: Mike Williams and Keary Colbert.
Leinart also weaved his magic behind a rebuilt offensive line in 2004.
It seems Leinart was at his best against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
He went 24-of-34 passing for 400 yards and five touchdowns as the Trojans rolled over the Irish on November 27, 2004, 41-10.
Notre Dame 10, (1) USC 41
Nov. 27, 2004
Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart passes for 400 yards and five touchdowns as USC scores the game’s final 38 points.
The Trojans win their 20th game in a row en route to a second straight national championship. pic.twitter.com/JoslKpeQVe
— Random College Football (@RandomCFB) January 15, 2021
It was the second straight year USC routed Notre Dame with Leinart under center.
The Trojans also beat the second-ranked California Golden Bears and the 15th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils by a combined 44 points.
In those two games, Matt Leinart passed for a combined 388 yards, six touchdowns, and just one interception.
The 6’5″, 225-lb. Leinart’s brilliance at quarterback propelled the Trojans to an undefeated 13-0 season in 2004.
With Leinart as the starting quarterback, USC went 25-1 in the past two seasons.
Not only that, but the Trojans also competed for the national title again.
This time, they went up against the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the 2005 Orange Bowl.
This one wasn’t even close.
Leinart threw for an Orange Bowl record five touchdown passes and a total of 332 passing yards in USC’s 55-19 blowout win over Oklahoma on January 5, 2005.
The Trojans quarterback revealed during an FS1 interview (via ReignOfTroy.com’s Alicia de Artola) sixteen years later the Sooners’ smack talk during that memorable 2005 BCS National Championship Game motivated him to no end:
“I remember all of the Oklahoma Sooners were talking so much smack to my face.”
“They’re like, ‘This is the guy who won the Heisman Trophy? Are you kidding me? We’re going to crush him.'”
“”It actually gave me more motivation to go out there and play well.”
It was also some sort of flashback to Leinart’s formative years when bullies ridiculed him.
In both instances, he proved the naysayers wrong.
— Michael Paletta (@paletta_michael) December 11, 2020
Without a doubt, the crowning moment of Matt Leinart’s football career was winning the 2004 Heisman Trophy.
He became USC’s sixth Heisman winner, per Heisman.com.
Leinart was also the second Trojan in three years to win the award after fellow quarterback Carson Palmer pulled off the feat in 2002.
Leinart also won the Walter Camp Player of the Year, Walter Camp Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year, Archie Griffin Award, Manning Award, The Sporting News Radio Socrates Award, and the National Quarterback Club’s College Quarterback of the Year award in 2004, per USCTrojans.com.
Despite the accolades and distinctions, Leinart decided to stay at USC for his redshirt senior season in 2005.
It shocked many football fans and pundits considering he was a lock for the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Without Leinart in the draft pool, the San Francisco 49ers made the BYU Cougars’ Alex Smith the first overall pick in 2005.
Leinart’s decision wasn’t about education as he needed only two classes to earn his sociology degree at USC.
He explained his surprising decision to ThePostGame.com’s Jeff Eisenband in 2017:
“I don’t have an agenda. I stayed for my senior year. Many people thought I would have been the No. 1 pick.”
“I loved going back to school and I loved being in college. I have no regrets to this day, but every situation is different.”
With Leinart back in tow, the Trojans mowed down the opposition in the 2005 NCAA season.
They won their first 12 games by an average of almost 29 points.
The Trojans also made their third consecutive national title game appearance.
— Quarterback Club (@TheNewQBClub) January 12, 2016
Vince Young and his Texas Longhorns stood in the way of a three-peat.
Young, who finished second to Leinart’s USC teammate Reggie Bush in the 2005 Heisman Trophy voting, had a score to settle.
Young’s 467 all-purpose yards and three touchdown runs carried the upstart Longhorns to victory, 41-28.
He also won 2006 Rose Bowl MVP honors.
Leinart wasn’t shabby at all in his final college game.
He passed for 365 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Despite the foiled three-peat bid, it was finally time for Matt Leinart to make his much-anticipated NFL debut.
The Arizona Cardinals made Matt Leinart the 10th overall pick of the 2006 NFL Draft.
The Cardinals won just five of 16 games during the 2005 NFL season.
They also hadn’t tasted postseason football in seven years.
It wasn’t hard envisioning Leinart succeeding legendary 35-year-old Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner in a few years’ time.
Leinart shared his sentiments with EastValley.com’s Darrell Urban in the aftermath of the draft:
“I fell to Arizona for a reason. I think it’s a great situation for me.”
“I’m not that familiar (with the Cardinals). I was prepared (to drop), knowing all the different needs teams had, but I am so excited to be an Arizona Cardinal.”
4/29/06 – Called "a gift from Heaven" by HC Denny Green, the Arizona Cardinals selected USC QB Matt Leinart with the 10th pick in the First Round. Leinart had a 37-2 record as a starter at USC, wining the 2004 Heisman Trophy, as well as two National Championships. #RedSea pic.twitter.com/on0O6izdub
— Arizona Sports History (@AZSportsHistory) April 30, 2020
One of Leinart’s best games early in his NFL career was his 232-yard-passing performance against the Chicago Bears on October 16, 2006.
Leinart threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions in the narrow 24-23 defeat to the visiting Bears.
It was the same game where Cardinals head coach Dennis Green exclaimed, “The Bears are who we thought they were!” in the postgame press conference.
Six weeks later, Leinart threw for 405 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in a 31-26 road loss to the Minnesota Vikings on November 26, 2006.
Leinart went on to start 11 games during the 2006 NFL season.
During his rookie campaign, Leinart passed for 2,547 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
Interestingly enough, it was the best statistical season of Leinart’s seven-year NFL career.
He was never the same player since then.
With Leinart as the starting quarterback, the Arizona Cardinals won four of 11 games.
At the end of the 2006 NFL season, Arizona produced the same 5-11 win-loss record from the year before.
The Cardinals, eager to become a postseason contender, fired Green and hired former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt on January 15, 2007.
That marked a significant turning point in Matt Leinart’s pro football career.
Leinart started the Cardinals’ first three games of the 2007 NFL season before he fractured his collarbone during a 34-31 road win over the then-St. Louis Rams on October 7, 2007.
— No One Is Illegal (@giangnam233) October 17, 2016
The injury forced Leinart to sit out the remainder of the 2007 NFL season.
With Leinart sidelined, Super Bowl XXXIV MVP Kurt Warner took over quarterbacking duties for Arizona.
Even with Leinart back in harness, he wound up starting just one game over the next two seasons for the Cardinals.
For his part, thirty-seven-year-old Kurt Warner led Arizona to a 9-7 win-loss record in 2008.
It was the Cardinals’ best record in a decade.
While a 9-7 win-loss record won’t make any major headlines, it was enough for the Arizona Cardinals to enter the postseason after a 10-year absence.
Surprisingly, Warner still had plenty left in his tank as he led Arizona to a berth in Super Bowl XLIII.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals lost to Whisenhunt’s old team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23.
Many experts consider Super Bowl XLIII one of the most exciting championship games in recent memory.
Somehow, Matt Leinart took it all in while languishing on the Cardinals’ bench.
Leinart played in eight games – seven as Warner’s backup – for Arizona during the 2009 NFL season.
He failed to throw a single touchdown pass during that stretch. He also threw three picks.
The Arizona Cardinals eventually released Matt Leinart on September 5, 2010.
— 98.7 Arizona Sports (@AZSports) November 4, 2015
In his four-year stint with the Cardinals, Leinart passed for 3,893 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions.
In the aftermath of Leinart’s release, Whisenhunt put things in perspective, per ESPN:
“This process was not about what some people said, two weeks into training camp or two preseason games.”
“It’s a complete body of work over a period of time. I will say like I have said before, Matt made tremendous progress.”
“I was excited about what he had done, the work he had put in. I do believe that he is a better quarterback now than he was when I got here four years ago.”
“It is not a slight on Matt, it was a decision that I felt gave us the best chance to win.”
Two days later, the Houston Texans signed Matt Leinart.
Regrettably, he never played a single down during the 2010 NFL season as starter Matt Schaub played in all 16 games.
The following year, Leinart filled in for Schaub, who injured his right foot in Week 10 of the 2011 NFL season.
Unfortunately, Leinart fractured his collarbone in a Week 12 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
T.J. Yates aptly filled the void at quarterback and eventually secured the No. 2 spot.
Consequently, Leinart fell in the depth chart.
The Texans released him in March 2012.
Two months later, Leinart signed with the Oakland Raiders, reuniting with his USC Trojans teammate Carson Palmer.
After Palmer sustained an injury in Week 16, the Raiders tapped Terrelle Pryor to replace him.
Matt Leinart was in limbo yet again.
He played in a total of just two games for the Raiders.
It turned out they were the final two games of his NFL career.
— The Buffalo News (@TheBuffaloNews) August 30, 2013
While Leinart signed with the Buffalo Bills on August 25, 2013, the team eventually released him five days later.
Matt Leinart retired from the NFL at the age of 30.
During his seven-year NFL career, he passed for 4,065 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions.
A year after his NFL football career ended, Matt Leinart found a new calling: sports broadcasting.
Leinart officially joined FOX Sports as a college football analyst in August 2014.
“I love my job. I get to talk about something that I’m really passionate about, but I don’t have to travel. I don’t. have to get hit,” he told Southbay’s Michele Garber in 2017.
That same year, Leinart secured his real estate license and joined Schneider Properties, per Garber.
Several months later, Leinart officially became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
In May 2018, Leinart married actress Josie Loren.
Leinart has been enjoying his life as a married man, per People.com:
“Married life is great. We went to Italy and had a blast. We bounced around all of Italy.”
“She’s finishing up law school, so she came back and went back to school.”
“And I came back and got ready for the football season. But it was a much-needed break for us.”
— Element Electronics (@ElementTVs) November 4, 2017
Leinart has a son, Cole, with Brynn Cameron, a former USC women’s basketball player.
Cole is currently in eighth grade and is also a two-sport star in football and basketball like his dad.
The younger Leinart told MadeHoops.com’s Travis Graf in November 2020 about his passion for both sports:
“I play football. I love playing quarterback and wide receiver on offense.”
“On defense, I love rushing the passer and getting sacks.”
“As of right now, my favorite sport is basketball but I love both.”
Just before 2020 kicked off, Matt Leinart earned a spot in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
Several weeks later, Loren gave birth to Leinart’s second son, Cayson Asis.
Leinart hinted at a possible comeback in August 2020.
He tweeted he wanted to play in the XFL.
I want to play in the @xfl2020 @TheRock
— Matt Leinart (@MattLeinartQB) August 6, 2020