Leinart deserved every dollar

This is is why  pro athletes deep down hate the fan.  In the end, they know the fickle fan will stab them when they’re down as Cardinals fans have done to Matt Leinart, the one-time glamor boy of their franchise who was released today.  

For two weeks, since Leinart was demoted to second team again, so-called Cardinals fans posting on local websites have ripped Leinart apart in a steady stream of vicious and unwarranted personal attacks.  It was hate personified.  You would think the millions of dollars Leinart received here in four seasons were the last dimes stolen from their own personal bank accounts.

The basis for such vitriol is hard to fathom.  Perhaps fans wanted Leinart to succeed too much, but he failed and let them down.  One thing is sure.  This hatred is not unique to Leinart, to the Cardinals or the NFL.  This hatred is visible and palpable everywhere in America, in almost every arena, none more so than in our increasingly bizarre and irrational politics where lies, propaganda, hysteria and animosity rule.  The hating of Matt Leinart should be no surprise to anyone with a brain.

That he made lots of money from the Cardinals, a reported $17.6 million over this four years is indisputable.  That he was not worth it, that the Cardinals wasted a No. 1 draft pick in 2006 borders on absurd.   Fans forget where this once-pitiful franchise was that year.  Where Cardinals fans now expect the playoffs every year, it was quite different then, before Leinart came to town billed as the franchise’s savior. 

A beautiful, world-class stadium had just been built in Glendale.  But it was largely the same team and the same coach that had won only five of 16 games the season before. True, there was some excitement generated by the arrival of Edgerrin James, who had been one of the best running backs the game had seen.  But Edge was past his prime and many looked at this in the same dour light as they had when the desperate Cardinals, trying to generate interest, brought in Emmitt Smith at the end of his great career.   Except for the stadium, interest was at low ebb.

Then came the “gift from heaven.”  That’s what the coach, Dennis Green, called it anyway. 

The 2006 college players draft did not look promising for the Cardinals until . . . until the 10th pick of the first round and the Cardinals saw none other staring them in the face than Matt Leinart, a Heisman Trophy winner from one of the elite programs in the country, USC.  A disappointed Leinart had been predicted to go much higher in the draft, maybe even the first player chosen, and many thought the chintzy Cardinals would bypass him.   But in the end, to pass on such a gift was unthinkable for the Cardinals.  To pass on Leinart would have been a public relations disaster of ungodly proportions.  To pass on him would have been to admit they were still “the same old Cardinals”  and a butt of constant jokes among Arizonians after nearly 20 years in the arid lands.

The Cardinals could see it all back then, a controversial stadium, built partially with public money, setting out there in the sun on the west edge of town, empty except for the few hard-core fans. 

The signing of Leinart sent this town reeling, maybe even more than did the signing of Charles Barkley by the Suns more than a decade earlier.  Season tickets became a hot commodity and the new stadium was sold out for every game.  Those fickle fans may have conveniently forgotten the desert air’s excitement in those days.  From the moment they signed Leinart, the Cardinals began to move forward, if not winning on the field, then in other ways.  Something new wafted around the Cardinals.  Expectations were high for once.  Leinart put an end to “same old Cardinals.”    

Matt Leinart was indeed a gift from heaven, although it was not the gift many hoped for.  The hatred he received from Cardinals fans is undeserved, and I feel a strange touch of sadness now that he is gone.  I wish in a way, as he probably does, that the clock could be turned back and we could start this movie again and hope for a better ending.

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