First there were The Coreys. Now, The Matthews. In their new movie, We Are Marshall, Matthew McConaughey, 37, and Lost’s Matthew Fox, 40, play real-life Marshall University football coaches Jack Lengyel and Red Dawson, who rebuilt the team after most of its players died in a 1970 plane crash (see box). McConaughey, who has a strong sartorial sense of humor, showed up at this interview in the ’70s threads he wears onscreen. He and Fox, both sports fans, coached PEOPLE’s Natasha Stoynoff on fashion, feelings and the finer points of the game.
Whoa. I’m having a Brady Bunch flashback!
McCONAUGHEY: I went for loud, heavy plaids in the film and always wore the tie a bit short.
Pretty. But can you guys throw the ball?
FOX: I played football in college, so it felt nostalgic to be on the field again. That smell of fresh-cut grass, hearing the clap of pads …
McCONAUGHEY: I got knocked on my butt the first day of filming. We had the kids do a drill, and I went to give one a chuck and I landed flat on my keister.
FOX: And then we all watched it on playback, Matthew getting knocked down over and over.
McCONAUGHEY: In slow-mo!
Hello, YouTube. What teams do you root for?
McCONAUGHEY: Washington Redskins.
FOX: I’m a big Eagles fan. Washington’s not having a great year.
McCONAUGHEY: I’ve been in Australia for two months. All I’ve seen on TV is cricket.
Us girls gotta know. What’s with all the butt-slapping during football games?
FOX: Matthew slapped me in a few scenes and I was like, “God, that hurt!”
McCONAUGHEY: Oh yeah, they were good slaps. Lengyel was a hands-on coach.
We hear you tough guys cried at the screening.
McCONAUGHEY: I cried more watching this film than I have in the last 10 years!
FOX: I had to put myself back together afterward.
McCONAUGHEY: I also cry watching King Kong. He was so misunderstood.
Did you cry when George Clooney was named Sexiest Man Alive this year? Your reign is over.
McCONAUGHEY: Nah. I sent George white chrysanthemums.
FOX: Hey, I think the title should just rotate between you and me every year.
McCONAUGHEY: Good thinking.
THEY WERE MARSHALL
Jack Lengyel remembers vividly the moment he heard about the plane crash that killed 37 “Thundering Herd” football teammates in 1970. “My heart sank,” says Lengyel, 71, who was coaching at the College of Wooster at the time—”just like every other football coach in the country.” With Marshall assistant coach W.A. “Red” Dawson, the two worked to build a new team and repair community spirit in Huntington, W.Va. The story seems tailor-made for Hollywood, but the coaches and other locals weren’t about to give their blessing to movie producers without assurances. First, says Lengyel, the film had to “pay proper respect to those who perished, to the school and to the town.” Before long the coaches, acting as technical advisors on-set, were giving McConaughey and Fox high-fives for their gridiron and acting talents. “They talked like coaches,” says Lengyel, “walked like coaches.” Seeing their lives onscreen has been a watershed moment for the men. “I thought I was going to dehydrate from all the tears [I cried],” says Dawson, 64, who couldn’t talk about the tragedy for more than 35 years. Now, he says, “there’s no question there’s been healing. I can see it in the families, I can see it in my friends … I can see it in myself.”