October 27, 2006

USC, C.U. Alums Meet Up in NFL

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Hollywood has finally met the Ivy League.

As Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

For the first time ever, Matt Leinart and Kevin Boothe ’06 were mentioned in the same game story. Boothe’s Raiders beat Leinart’s Cardinals last Sunday, 22-9.

The two could not have taken more different roads to the NFL. Leinart hails from the O.C. — the land of cash and cars, surf and sand, Coopers and Cohens. Boothe is from Queens.

Leinart was one of the most decorated college football players in history. An All-American Heisman winner and two-time national champion, he lost only twice in 39 career starts at USC. He was all-world and the most recognizable NCAA athlete in the country.

Boothe was also a decorated player — in the Ivy League. He was also an All-American — at the Division I-AA level, with guys from Hofstra and Sam Houston State. With Boothe on the offensive line, Cornell posted a 15-25 record.

Leinart was the prince of California football. His Trojans were the toast of Los Angeles. Leinart went to the most exclusive restaurants in town and got the best tables. He partied at Mood and Spider followed by paparazzi and throngs of fans. In a city home to some of the biggest movie stars on earth, this college kid dominated the headlines.
On campus, he was a god. In football, he was already a legend.

Despite his colossal stature, fewer people recognized Boothe. In the subdued gloom of Ithaca, Boothe was just another guy on a perennially mediocre Ivy team. If he weren’t 6-5 and over 300 pounds, he would have been just like any other Cornell student.
Like most student-athletes, Boothe practiced, played, finished his homework and went to sleep. Nick Lachey was not living with him and — as far as we know — he has not been linked to Paris Hilton. He may have never even stayed at a Hilton hotel.

While Leinart was honing his footwork in ballroom dancing, Boothe was preparing for Hotel Administration prelims.

Before the 2006 NFL draft, scouts pegged Leinart as a certain top-5 choice. When Arizona drafted him 10th overall, few could believe so many teams passed up such a gifted athlete. Nevertheless, when Leinart signed a contract for over $50 million, he finally had the money to back up his Hollywood star status.

Curiously, one of the teams that passed on Leinart was Oakland. The Raiders, pinning their future quarterback hopes on Pac-10 alum Andrew Walter, chose safety Michael Huff with the seventh overall pick. Huff was a part of the Texas defense that humbled Leinart, Reggie Bush and the rest of the Trojans at the Rose Bowl.

In the sixth round of the draft, when even the most die-hard of fans had switched over to Two-A-Days, Boothe heard his named called with the 176th overall pick. It wasn’t entirely unexpected; Boothe had the size, the intelligence and the Cornell work ethic. It just wasn’t that exciting.

As the cameras and tabloids followed Leinart through each second of training camp, Boothe quietly worked his way onto the Raiders’ depth chart at right guard. In the fifth week of the season, Leinart’s first start commanded national media attention while Boothe’s second start went virtually unnoticed.

On Sunday, the two rookies who could not have taken more different roads met on the same NFL field.

Unfortunately for Leinart, Arizona does not have much in the way of an offensive line. The team managed only 50 rushing yards and Leinart was sacked three times.

Lying on the ground, bruised, battered and staring up at the Bay Area sky, Leinart looked like the kind of guy who would trade his firstborn for decent pass protection. He also looked like someone who would give an extra million of his own money to have a player like Boothe on his team.

As it is, most of Leinart’s extra cash will be going to child support payments. On Wednesday, the quarterback’s first son was born in Los Angeles. Once again, the cameras, talk shows and magazines all followed him there.

Meanwhile, Boothe was back in Oakland, doing what Cornell students do best — working. Far from the bright lights, off-the-field scandals and Hollywood glamour, Boothe was memorizing Pittsburgh rush schemes. For him, it is just another week as a Cornell grad and professional athlete.

And that has made all the difference.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Friday this semester.