He Makes a Pronounced Statement


The words spilled messily from the Saturday morning car radio.

Dirk Koetter, the Arizona State coach, was speaking in an interview about the USC quarterback.

Calling him Matt Lee-nart.

What was once the biggest name in college football had become a name that an opposing coach couldn’t even pronounce.

One five-touchdown ruler across the knuckles later, the mistake was corrected.

That’s Leinart, as in, Highz-man.

He’s back, emerging from the belly of preseason hype to throw up a midseason classic.

He’s back, untying the yoke of expectations and flinging it at the Sun Devils in the form of quick strikes, perfect lobs and Dwayne Jarrett.


His team is back in a secure national No. 1 position, and his name is back atop the list for podium reservations at the Downtown Athletic Club.

It was USC 45, Arizona State 7, Line-art, and don’t forget it.

“We realize there’s a lot of people jumping off the bandwagon, wanting to see us fall,” Leinart said. “We’re not going to let that happen. We’re too smart to let that happen.”

The biggest fall had been from the gaudily decorated carriage belonging to that quarterback, who was five games removed and five stories down from his perch atop other Heisman Trophy candidates.

After being outplayed by Aaron Rodgers in the escape against California last week, Leinart had officially plummeted from Heir Apparent to Also Receiving Votes.

He had been overwhelmed by the buzz, struggling to find his young receivers, sweating to overcome a sore elbow, and lucky to be unbeaten after throwing more interceptions (three) in his previous three games than in his last nine games of last season combined.

“All of the attention, yeah, he’s been aware of it,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said. “He had to learn how to do it properly.”


So this is what a Heisman education looks like.

Turn up the volume at a sold-out Coliseum, turn down the heat on a kid who finally realizes he can’t lose something he never had.

Then, duck.

Leinart threw four touchdown passes, including three to freshman Jarrett, who suddenly looks like Mike Williams with a snowman on his back.

He rushed for one touchdown on a play in which he sprained his neck but did not come out of the game.

He even dropped back and found 2003, leading the team on a game-clinching 76-yard drive that required about eight seconds.

He did not throw an interception, did not experience an obvious brain cramp, totaled 224 yards passing even though he skipped the fourth quarter.

“Yeah, last year,” he said, smiling. “This was like last year.”

Call it a four-hour sigh of relief.

And then, he hugged.

Does any player on this hugging team hug more than Matt Leinart?

He was nearly the last one off the Coliseum field Saturday, occupied as he was with hugging children with Trojan shirts, children with red Trojan hair, children bearing tiny helmets and giant pens, children no bigger than his knee brace.


He signed everything, posed with everybody, and was so approachable that one coed simply walked up and slapped him on the butt.

When he reached the locker room, his shirt darkened with sweat, his pads hanging off him like broken branches off a crooked tree, he spotted offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

Freshly out of the shower, and completely dressed.

“Don’t hug me, you’re all sweaty!” Chow said.

Leinart hugged him anyway.

“All those fans, that used to be me,” he said. “I used to be the one looking up to the athletes. Now that I’m here, I have a responsibility to them.”

It is a responsibility that the sensitive Leinart took so seriously, he was guilty of trying too hard while being far too ordinary in the season’s first half.

“Matt felt pressure from the fact that with several of our guys gone, he had to be the leader now,” Chow said. “He had to carry a big load.”

It was a load so big, sometimes he needed security guards just to accompany him from the practice field to Heritage Hall.


“I knew what was going to happen, but when it happened, wow,” Leinart said. “It was a lot of stuff. It was overwhelming. I tried to do too much.”

After disappearing from the Heisman radar screen last week, the quiet one suddenly, not surprisingly, relaxed.

Said Leinart: “The Heisman is still cool, but I realize it’s just a lot of guys talking.”

Said Carroll: “He came through it, he weathered it.”

Unlike the previously unbeaten Sun Devils, quickly melted and easily sliced, in front of poor Coach Koetter, pronounced like butter, so there.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at For more Plaschke, go to