Now, Leinart is entering the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Hall announced Monday that Leinart was part of a 13-member 2017 class, which will be inducted in a ceremony in New York on Dec. 5. He will become the 32nd USC player inducted, and 43rd with a USC tie.
The class includes former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk and Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson. And the man responsible for one of Los Angeles’ most iconic sports moments — on the baseball diamond — will also be inducted: Kirk Gibson, who was a Michigan State receiver before playing for the Dodgers.
“Wow some of the greatest football players to ever live,” Leinart wrote in an Instagram post of the 2017 class. “Just amazed!”
Leinart, now an analyst for Fox Sports, led USC to a 37-2 record over three seasons. He passed for 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns and was named a first-team All-American three seasons in a row.
He led USC to a split national championship following the 2003 season and then claimed the title outright following the 2004 season. The 2005 season ended with a last-second loss to Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl, in what has become one of the most iconic games in college football history.
In the Instagram post, Leinart thanked his coaches, fans and teammates.
“Everything I achieved in college was solely because I had the greatest teammates in the world,” he wrote.
Gibson played baseball and football in college before winning a National League Most Valuable Player award with the Dodgers in 1988 and winning the World Series thanks in part to his walk-off pinch-hit home run in Game 1.
That moment and a long baseball career made it is easy to forget that Gibson’s first sport was football. He left Michigan State as its all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches.
Gibson explained in his autobiography, “Bottom of the Ninth,” that he didn’t play baseball at Michigan State until he was a junior, when the school’s coach, Danny Litwhiler, asked him to try out. The football coach supported it. He thought it would give Gibson more leverage in the NFL draft, where Gibson was expected to be a high pick. Gibson ended up an All-American in baseball too, setting school records in home runs and runs batted in.
“It’s an incredible honor to be selected to the College Football Hall of Fame,” Gibson said in a statement released by Michigan State. “But I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize all those who were there to lift me up when I was down, or those who kicked me in the ass when it was warranted.”
The rest of the 2017 class: Notre Dame linebacker Bob Crable, Texas offensive tackle Bob McKay, Texas A&M linebacker Dat Nguyen, Boston College nose guard Mike Ruth, New Mexico defensive back Brian Urlacher, Clemson and Arkansas coach Danny Ford, Mount Union coach Larry Kehres and Duke, Florida and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.