'Marshall' Brings Football Story To Screen

The inspirational new film, "We Are Marshall" follows the true story of a town torn apart by tragedy and the man who took the job of bringing them back together.

The man, Coach Jack Lengyel, is played by Matthew McConaughey, who dropped by The Early Show to talk to co-anchor Hannah Storm.

McConaughey, 37, has appeared in nearly 40 movies and yet this is only the second instance where he read a script and immediately knew he was going to do the film.


"Such a beautiful story and it was true … Most of the time, what we do is, read a script and it's fictional," said the actor. "If it's good, it moves you, but this one was better than anything I had ever read and it was true.

"So that's that extra added bonus that gives you resonance, that makes you go, 'This is going to be more than making a movie. This will have an affect on people's lives.' "

On the evening of Saturday, Nov. 14, 1970, a chartered jet carrying Marshall University's football team, coaches and fans, was on its way home from a hard-fought game in North Carolina. Less than a minute before its scheduled landing at Tri-State Airport, the plane crashed in the Appalachian Mountains, killing everyone aboard: 37 players, eight coaches and university staff, the flight crew, and 25 prominent Huntington, W.Va., citizens who had made the trip as they always did to cheer for their "Thundering Herd."

McConaughey said that, to this day, the town's identity is tied to that event, "by bloodline, lore or friendship. If you move to Huntington, West Virginia, tomorrow, in one week you would understand, and part of this tragedy would be a part of your makeup."

A few college seniors who were on the team did not make that fateful trip because they were injured. After the tragedy, the student body decided that they wanted the football team to continue.

The next question was: How? They had to find a coach.

"Nobody really wanted that job, understandably so," McConaughey explained. "This one man (Lengyel) from Worcester, Ohio, said, 'I do want the job, for the simple reason that I think I can help.' "

The movie depicts an uphill climb for Jack Lengyel, the new coach. Members of his team were mostly freshmen. It was a small team that apparently didn't have a shot at winning.

Some questioned whether they were really honoring the lost team members by playing against such odds. But, as Lengyel expresses it to his assistant coach: "It doesn't matter if we win or if we lose. It's not even a matter of how we play the game. What matters is that we play the game. One day, not today, not tomorrow, not this season, probably not next season, but one day, you and I are going to wake up and suddenly we're going to be like every other team in every other sport where winning is everything and nothing else matters. And when that day comes, well, that's when we'll honor them."

McConaughey actually met Lengyel, and Storm asked what he learned from him.

Replied the actor: "Sometimes it takes an outsider … Here's a man who was not related to anyone on that plane crash. Didn't pretend to understand how everyone felt and came in to do one simple thing: Coach the football team …"

For Christmas this year, McConaughey is going to Australia to spend the holiday with a family with which he lived as an exchange student in 1988. When he left, the host had five daughters and one grandchild. Now he has five daughters and 12 grandchildren.
Observed McConaughy, "Nineteen years. It's going to be a beautiful Christmas."

The new movie, "We Are Marshall," opens nationwide Friday, Dec. 22.