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Original Issue

Leinart's Last Dance

Matt Leinart, USC's all-everything quarterback, is having a very bad day.

Step! Rock! Tuck! a voice yells at him again and again from the sidelines.

But Leinart keeps rocking when he should be tucking and tucking when he should be stepping. Finally, he just gives up and sits down.

This is the Heisman Trophy winner? The superstud who will go No. 1 in next year's NFL draft? The Houdini who pulled out USC's did-you-see-that? 34-31 win at Notre Dame last Saturday?

Yep, but this isn't football. This is Leinart's only class this semester at USC--ballroom dancing--and Leinart dances the way Winnebagos parallel park.

"I had no idea who he was," says his teacher, Jesus Fuentes, who was in Dirty Dancing. "But then I noticed the class getting packed. And then some girls said to me, 'When we switch partners, will you make sure you put me with Matt?' I still haven't seen him play."

But what are his best moves? "None," Leinart says. "I have no moves at all."

O.K., so Leinart has two left anvils for feet, but the rest of his life is just right. "I've got no worries," he says. "It's all for love, for team, just being with my guys."

You got a problem with the most famous college football player in America representing a school when he's taking only one dance class at that school? Get in line.

"One dance class?" my Notre Dame buddy gripes. "How does that make him a college athlete? What's the difference between him and Brett Favre?"

I'll tell you what--$10 million a year. Projected as the possible No. 1 choice in the 2005 draft, he chose loyalty over bucks and came back for his senior year. In today's greedfest that's the equivalent of MAILMAN MARRIES PIT BULL. Alex Smith of Utah had the same choice, and he took the bucks. He went No. 1 instead of Leinart, to the San Francisco 49ers, for $49.5 million.

Leinart, meanwhile, went back to his $1,050-a-month scholarship stipend, his crappy two-bedroom apartment and his dented white Ford Ranger pickup. How's that for a difference?

"People can say what they want," Leinart says. "I worked my ass off for four years. This is my reward. I only need two more credits to graduate, so all I need is one easy class."

Personally, I think Leinart played us all for dopes. I've said this for years--a player can make gazillions more staying in school and becoming a star. Stars are marketable. Stars get endorsements. Stars get out of sports and get handed car dealerships and restaurants and one-hour-a-month corporate jobs.

Since he came back, Leinart's blown past football star to flush-on-the-lips celebrity. Last week a reporter from PEOPLE asked him if it's true Nick Lachey is sleeping on his couch. (The answer was no.) Us Weekly was offering USC beat writers $400 for a single quote from Leinart. How much is an Alex Smith quote going for?

Plus, Leinart will go into the NFL with another year's worth of game experience, which means he'll be better in his first three NFL seasons, which means he'll get a second contract that will dwarf the second contract he would've gotten. And if Smith got $49.5 million, what will a guy get who'll make Smith look like he has rickets?

"I know I could be living in some NFL city right now, maybe being thrown into the mix when I'm not ready," Leinart said the other day in L.A. "Instead, I'm hangin' out with my friends, cherishing my senior year.... I'm just like any other college guy."

Oh, absolutely, Matt. We all had senior years like yours. Except for needing security to get us around campus; having Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson and Lachey at our birthday parties; doing fashion photo shoots for GQ and Esquire; appearing on Jimmy Kimmel twice; having our own Internet TV show; hanging out with Maria Sharapova, Wayne Gretzky and Adam Sandler; and being linked to more hot L.A. women than Frederick of Hollywood.

But who cares? As far as I'm concerned, Leinart can't have enough winning lotto tickets fall in his soup. It's not just that he's smart, humble and loyal, it's that he stands as a skyscraper of hope for every kid crying in his bedroom after school. Leinart spent the first 14 years of his life getting picked on for being cross-eyed and fat.

"Kids can be cruel," he remembers. "They'd look at my eyes and go, 'Who are you lookin' at anyway?' They'd make fun of my fat butt. It was, like, every day."

Now those guys are lookin' at a 6'5" touchdown machine who is 31-1 as a starter and could become the first player in 30 years to win two Heismans.

Stick that in your Can-can.

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You got a problem with the most famous college football player in America representing a school while taking only one ballroom dancing class? Well, get in line.