During last April’s NFL Draft, Cowboy-great-turned-obnoxious-NFL-analyst Michael Irvin said something so stupid that I actually refused to believe he actually believed what he was saying.

Eston Bond

After the Detroit Lions drafted Roy Williams with the 7th overall pick, Irvin questioned Williams’s work ethic because he returned to Texas for his senior season.

And now that quarterback Matt Leinart has decided to return to Southern Cal, I’ve been hearing the same rumblings.

Now, there are justifiable reasons to question Leinart’s decision. He could have been the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and made as much as $20 million dollars before ever playing a game. Instead, he’ll have to avoid injury for an extra 12 months, and, even then, his stock can’t go any higher.

But there really are people who say that Leinart may have made the decision he made because he doesn’t yet want to face the challenges of the NFL.

Here’s the thing: few people who have been analyzing his decision — including the ones who say they understand his reasoning — really get it.

A lot of the people who say he made the right decision point to the opportunity he has next year. Leinart could become the second player ever to win two Heisman Trophies and could lead the Trojans to a third straight national title. He could also conceivably leave Los Angeles as the best college football player ever. It’s all within his reach.

But Leinart didn’t mention any of that when announcing his decision. “I think college football and this whole atmosphere here and being with my friends and my teammates … is, ultimately, more satisfying and will make me happier than any amount of money could make someone happy,” Leinart said last Friday.

Now, Leinart won’t be making millions in the next year, but, as a college student, I can totally understand the decision he’s making.

The real world is far from easy — even for a quarterback. I’ve spent the last eight months closely following last year’s No. 1 draft pick — quarterback Eli Manning — as he took the helm of the New York Giants, so I have a pretty good sense of what Leinart will be delaying.

Now that he’s coming back, Leinart will be in Los Angeles for the summer. Sure, he’ll be working out and maybe even taking a class, but it’s nothing too stressful.

What was Manning up to last summer, you ask? Well, first he had to deal with the wrath of San Diego after forcing a trade to New York. Then, when he joined the Giants, his veteran teammates — fearing a rebuilding year — gave him a hard time. After just a handful of practices, some of the same players who had finished the previous season with a eight-game losing streak were making fun of Manning’s southern drawl and telling everyone possible that he wasn’t ready.

Think things get better in the fall? Well, Leinart will get to be the Big Man on Campus (in Los Angeles no less) for one final fall. He’ll get to keep dating models and he’ll get to befriend more celebrities. He’ll get to play with on a team filled with so many top players, he’ll have to play horribly bad to even lose a game. And he’ll also get to play for a coach and offensive coordinator that actually seem like they would be fun to play for in Pete Carroll and Norm Chow, respectively. As great as Michigan may be, it’s hard to imagine Lloyd Carr allowing Snoop Dogg into practice the way Carroll did in November.

Manning’s fall was far different. First he sat and watched for two months. Then, when he finally played, he faced one tough defense after another. All told, Manning dropped his first seven games, and, even though he won the season finale, he still has his share of doubters.

And, as it turned out, Irvin couldn’t have been more wrong about Williams, who appears to be on track for stardom and who, this season, made some of the most unbelievable catches I’ve ever seen.

Don’t be surprised if Leinart does the same.


Sharad Mattu can be reached at smattu@umich.edu.

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