EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Sports

December 19, 2008

Reversal of Fortune

Ex-USC golden boy Leinart sits while his former back-up Cassel points Patriots to playoffs

FOXBORO — Sunday afternoon, the wrong Southern California quarterback will be holding the clipboard at Gillette Stadium.

The top draft pick with the Heisman Trophy, the $51 million contract and the jetsetting lifestyle most likely won't throw a pass as the Arizona Cardinals make their first trip here since 1994.

While on the other sidelines, Leinart's former backup at USC will continue to pen his improbable story for the Patriots.

Sunday, Arizona's Matt Leinart will earn $531,200 to watch his college pal, New England's Matt Cassel, take on the NFC West champion Cardinals. Cassel, by the way, will make $533,500 ... for the season!

How did this happen?

"I've overcome a lot of adversity," said Cassel, who in 2003 was beaten out by the redshirt freshman Leinart in a battle USC coach Pete Carroll has said was decided by the narrowest of margins. "It's taught me to keep pushing forward and keep moving on."

Leinart, who replaced Carson Palmer at USC, could heed his friend's approach to life on the sidelines. It wasn't supposed to be this way for the MVP of the 2005 Rose Bowl and 2006 Orange Bowl.

After a quick start ... Leinart made 11 starts as a rookie, including a 405-yard passing game against Minnesota ... nothing has come easily.

The Cardinals' original plan had been for the veteran Kurt Warner to ease the transition for Leinart to the pros, teach him the ropes then go out gracefully.

Instead, the two found themselves sharing time last year until a broken collarbone Leinart's sophomore season in October.

Since then, it's been all Warner, as Leinart, who was supposed to start this year, struggled in the preseason.

For a guy like Leinart, who ran with the Hollywood crowd at USC and looked destined for superstardom, it has been a culture shock. And then came the off-field problems, Internet photos of Leinart in a hot tub with a beer funnel and underage girls.

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