Matt Leinart was technically at ESPYs week even though he never surfaced at any ESPYs events. He did, however, attend a dinner that Bacardi hosted for the Matt Leinart Foundation where he invited Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew and few other close friends where he admitted he’s different from the Vincent Chase lookalike that entered the NFL and ruled college football four years ago. He skipped on a pre-ESPYs party to tuck-in his son, Cole, after the dinner and skipped the awards show altogether to take his son to the fair. In between sipping on mojitos, I was able to ask the proud dad a few more questions about the upcoming season.
On his motivation coming into this season after sitting on the bench, either hurt or as a backup, most of his career.
It has really motivated me. Sitting there, being hurt, not being able to be a part of the team, the pain is really motivating. I know how it feels to be out and it sucks. I’m 100 percent now and I worked my butt off to get to this point and now I just have to keep working hard and keep getting better and to be the best and too get to the playoffs and do all that stuff you got to put in the work that’s what I got to do.
On fatherhood and how his three-year old son, Cole, has changed his outlook on life
It’s a trip because when you become a father or a parent it puts things in perspective in your life. You just realize, ‘Wow, this is my son and I basically live for him.’ I don’t care about myself or getting things for me. Little things don’t matter anymore and you put him before everything else. He’s your family. He’s the reason why I wake up. He’s the reason why I play football. There really isn’t anything better than a father-son relationship. That’s the coolest part. I love being a dad and I love him more than anything. It’s so excited to see him grow up.
On what he’s learned about being an NFL quarterback despite not playing much
It’s been hard but experience is the biggest thing. With experience you’re only going to get better. You have to put in the work off the field on your own and study but the more experience you have the easier the game becomes and I’m getting there. At ‘SC, being in a system for five years and starting for three years, going into my senior year it was a breeze. It was more a situation where I was a coach and teaching the younger kids when I was leaving. That’s how the NFL is it’s just a matter of getting to that point. It’s difficult because the game is so hard but you have put in all the work and put in your time until you get to that point.
On dealing with all the attention he gets for his off-the-field activities
It’s difficult. It’s one of those things where I’ve come to realize that my life is magnified through the media in whatever I do. I’ve taken some hit and I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’ve learned from everything I’ve been through. I just try to understand that but also realize that this is my life and I’m going to try to have fun. I don’t want to have any regrets when I’m 50 years old and say, ‘Gosh, I wish I had done this or that.’ At the same time, you have to be smart about what you do, that’s the biggest thing because I am a person that’s out there and people look up to me and kids look up to me. But at the end of the day I’m very blessed. I’m not going to complain. I’m blessed to be able to do what I do.
On being misunderstood by the public
I think a lot of athletes are portrayed a certain way and you would just like to let people into your life for a day or two and say, ‘This is how I really am. I’m goofball, I’m a dad, I play video games, I’m a kid, I’m not what you think I am.’ But I like to remain private just because so much stuff is already out there. I don’t let a lot people close to me. I have my friends and I have my family and that’s all that matters to me.
On the Matt Leinart Foundation and partnering with the Make-a-Wish Foundation to grant 12 wishes this year as part of his Matt’s Magical Moments program
It’s really one of the things I’m most proud of. Just to be able to give back with my family and my brother. You have a vision to start out where you say, I want to help all the kids in the world, I want to help as many kids as I can, but it’s hard so I try and focus on the Southern California area where I’m from and Arizona, where I now reside an play football. You try and give these kids the opportunities that I had growing up. You try and give them things and resources that they would not normally get. It’s a very cool thing to be able to do.
On still being thought of as the Heisman trophy winning quarterback at USC
It’s been awhile now. I love ‘SC, I always will but when I go back there in the off-season I go there to work out and train and that’s about it. I had a lot of good memories there and a lot of great times in football with my guys but there comes a point where you got to move on and mature.
On living in the desert now after being born and raised near the beaches of Southern California
It’s fun. Phoenix is a great city. I love the city. Where I live is very secluded and very family oriented so I’m not bothered. I love the team and I love my friends on the team and the coaches. We’re a team that’s on the rise, we’re a good football team and it’s just fun to be a part of that.
Rick Fox occasionally appears on Fox Sports West's Lakers Live pre-game and post-game shows and he had a couple of YouTube worthy moments on Monday night. During the pre-game show, Fox, wearing a hoodie and jeans, unzipped his hoodie to reveal his bare chest and screamed, "Wolverine!" after saying their should be an "iso cam" on him during the game.
LOS ANGELES – The final piece of what the Los Angeles Lakers hope will be a championship puzzle was put back into place Thursday night as Andrew Bynum returned to the team's starting lineup against the Denver Nuggets during a 116-102 win. Bynum, who has missed 100 total games over the past two seasons, hadn't played a game since he tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Jan. 31.
It was a sight that even the most optimistic Lakers fan had to wonder if they would see again this season. Last season, Bynum was expected to return before the season after he had partially dislocated his left kneecap but wouldn't play again until this pre-season. As early as two weeks ago, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Bynum wasn't close to returning. That was, of course, before Bynum was photographed with a Playmate on his shoulders at the Playboy Mansion while the Lakers were wrapping up a seven-game road trip.
You know the old saying, there’s nothing like a night at the Playboy Mansion to get you back in game shape.
As soon as the Lakers returned from their road trip, Bynum pleaded with Jackson to activate him and proved that he was ready to return after dominating in five-on-five drills with the team this week.
"He wanted to come back last week," said Jackson. "He felt comfortable and wanted to be back on the roster last Friday so there was about a week delay between how we felt and how comfortable he was. I still wanted to see him play in some five-on-five games but playing in front of a crowd is always different."
While the Lakers were vying for the best record in the league without Bynum (they defeated both the Celtics and Cavaliers on the road without him) and reached the NBA Finals last season while he was out, most of the team still sees Bynum as the final piece of their puzzle. He is the difference between the Lakers being one of the best teams to being a championship team. He takes them from being a good defensive team with a deep bench to a scary defensive team with the deepest bench and the best sixth man – Lamar Odom – in the league.
"When Bynum and Gasol play together their power and prevalence around the basket is very difficult to take out of the game," said Nuggets coach George Karl. "Kobe [Bryant], [Pau] Gasol, Bynum and Odom throw over top of the defense so well. It's hard to keep them away from the rim. They're a top 2-3 team without [Bynum] and they could get to the top of the mountain with him. You have to remember there hasn't been a lot of teams in the past ten years that have played two seven footers but both Gasol and Bynum are playmakers."
Wearing a yellow and black protective knee brace on his right knee, Bynum was on the court practicing two hours before the game and couldn't stop moving around the locker room prior to the opening introductions. After he was announced in the starting lineup, he got a standing ovation from the crowd as public address announcer Lawrence Tanter said, "Welcome back Andrew Bynum," as the theme from "Welcome Back, Kotter" played.
Up until the opening tip of the game, Jackson was reluctant to reveal how he would use Bynum, refusing to announce that he would do anything other than activate him for the game.
"You'll have to wait and see about that part," said Jackson with a smile when asked if Bynum would start. "I'll talk to him before he goes out there."
Even Karl, leaning against the visiting locker room door was curious, asking reporters if they knew if Bynum would start. "I heard he wasn't starting," said Karl. "What have you heard? Is he starting?"
While Bynum's presence elicited cheers every time he touched the ball in the first half, it wasn't until the second half that everyone began to see the player who was averaging 14 points and 8.2 rebounds before getting injured.
"The start of the first half was rust, nervousness, butterflies, but I settled down in the second half," said Bynum. "Mostly I listened to the advice my teammate, Josh Powell, gave me. He told me to post up deep, get deep position and it will be easier to jump start you and that's what I started doing and it worked out for me."
After looking timid around the basket in scoring three points in the first two quarters, Bynum began becoming more physical in the second half. He scored the first basket of the third quarter on a hook over Nene, beat three defenders in scoring another basket and slam dunked a put-back after a Gasol miss. Bynum would finish the game scoring 16 points, nine in the third quarter, and grabbing 7 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Bynum’s comfort level on the court increased to the point where he even hit an open shot from near the top of the key, a shot Karl had jokingly hoped Bynum had developed while he was gone so he wouldn't dominate the paint. Well, on Thursday, he showed he could do both.
As pleasant a sight as it had to be for the Jackson, who was hoping to ease Bynum back into the lineup, it had to be equally alarming for whatever team that has to face the Lakers with Bynum in the lineup. Bynum didn't just ease into the lineup, he exceeded his season scoring average against the second best team in the West after being out for over two months.
"Without Andrew we were able to go the Finals and lose and of course we want to go back and win," said Odom. "But our goal isn't to be better than one team, it's to be better than 29 other teams."