Anderson and Leinart take battle to higher ground
The Cardinals have set a new battle, and the combatants represent faces from old college gridiron wars. Anderson, from Oregon State, watched from a defeated sideline, as Leinart piloted his Trojans to victories in 2003 and 2004. But despite possessing the lesser talent and twice appearing on the losing end, Anderson lit up the skies for a combined total of nearly 900 yards in those two contests.
The first encounter took place in Los Angeles, with Leinart in the midst of his first National Championship run. He was a newcomer, a first year starter that had yet to register on the national radar. He would throw for 278 yards and 5 touchdowns in the lopsided 52-28 victory, in a game most memorable for a one-handed touchdown grab by Mike Williams in the back of the end zone. Lost in the embarrassment was Anderson’s 485 yard effort that included a strike to Mike Haas that went for a 90 yard score.
Anderson hosted the defending National Champions on his home turf in 2004. A thick fog threatened to end a 17-game win streak and finally give the Beavers’ quarterback a victory over USC. Despite building a 13-6 halftime lead, Oregon State fell 28-20 to the Trojans, in a game highlighted by a dazzling punt return for touchdown by Reggie Bush. For the second time in two seasons, Anderson had the greater numbers, passing for 383 yards to Leinart’s 205.
One month after their final collegiate meeting, Leinart was in New York accepting the Heisman Trophy. Two months later, he was hoisting the crystal ball, as the Trojans’ undefeated season climaxed with a second championship in as many years. Anderson’s college career ended quietly in late December, throwing for 358 yards against Notre Dame in the Insight Bowl, to move into second place behind Carson Palmer as the Pac 10’s most prolific quarterback.
Derek Anderson was selected by Baltimore in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Matt Leinart would have been the first overall selection that year, had he opted to come out. He was selected in the first round in 2006.
Two quarterbacks, traveling two paths, have arrived in the same location to battle for a single spot. Arizona presents an even playing field, unlike those witnessed in earlier challenges. From those 2003-2004 seasons, Leinart’s receivers, running backs, tight end, and offensive line have appeared on NFL rosters. With the exception of Steven Jackson, you would be hard-pressed to find members of Anderson’s supporting cast.
Matt Leinart is easily considered one of the best college quarterbacks of all time, but which of these former Pac 10 gunslingers is the better NFL quarterback? That’s for the Cardinals to decide, and amateur accolades won’t factor in the decision. This war is fought on a higher ground.—Let the opening battle begin.