A Matthew McConaughey – UT Conspiracy


For many fans of the Texas Longhorns, the last five years have been a dark time. The mid-to-late aughts were very kind to the program, about as kind as they could be to anyone not named Vin Diesel or Paul Walker, but today UT heroes like Vince Young, Colt McCoy, and Jordan Shipley are best known as recurring characters in the Longhorn Network’s endearing attempts at funny commercials.

What went wrong? Was it the competency of the head coach, lack of ambition to compete for out-of-state recruits, an athletic director too slow to recognize the winds of change in the program? Or was it something even simpler? And, in its own way, far more sinister?

Our metrics team has run the numbers for thousands of possible correlations, and we now believe that the answer was in front of us the entire time, beating his chest on the Godzillatron game after game. Giving motivational speeches like a slacker Yoda at practice. Providing his twangy voiceover on every televised promotion for the University.

Before you flip out, no: we are not blaming Matthew McConaughey for the decline of Texas football. We love Matt McConaughey. He went from dropping out of college to starring in Linklater indies to becoming Rom Com royalty and winning multiple Teen Choice Awards. The guy’s a hero. What we are doing, though, is blaming the artistic resurgence of Matthew McConaughey’s career for the decline of Texas football. There’s a big difference.

But before we can understand this relationship between the Longhorns and McConaughey, we must examine a few points in time, the first of which is the beginning of what we’ll call the Era of the MConn Rom Com. The year was 2001, and the nation was finding itself in an uncertain period, but there were two things you could set your watch by: Mack Brown would win at least nine games a season, and Matt McConaughey would team up with a B-list starlet to make a charming if not life-changing romantic comedy.

During this period our plucky leading man unleashed such cinematic tour-de-forces as The Wedding Planner (2001, 16% Rotten Tomatoes), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003, 42% RT), Tiptoes (2004, 29% RT), Failure to Launch ( 2006, 24%), Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009, 27%), and Fool’s Gold (2008, 11%). And throughout the decade Matt tried to break from his Com-fortable position as the Hillbilly Heartthrob in every way he could imagine. His attempts at “guy movies” in this era included the post-apocalyptic epic of helicopters and dragons, Reign of Fire (2002, 40%), a hilariously overacted gambling flick with Al Pacino called Two For The Money (2005, 22% RT), the Clive Cussler adaptation Sahara (2005, 39%), and the record-settingly terrible Surfer, Dude (2008, 0% RT). Meanwhile on the 40 acres, the Texas Longhorns saw their most successful period since the 1970s, and certainly their most consistent. From 2001 to 2009 Texas had eight straight seasons with 10+ wins and eight straight bowl game appearances, one national championship win in two appearances, and two Heisman runner-ups. In the McConn Rom Com era, Texas averaged an 85.6% win percentage, a direct inverse correlation with Matthew McConaughey’s 32.5% average on the Tomatometer.

But after 2009, the bongo-playing, coed-chasing, ruggedly handsome oddball began appearing in serious films and winning critical praise. And in Austin, the Longhorns, completely oblivious to the above findings, were in a state of turmoil. Mack Brown failed to deliver a winning season for the first time in his tenure. This topsy turvy time is what film (and soon to be sports) scholars refer to as the McConaissance. Matt’s turn as the titular Lincoln Lawyer (2011, 83% RT) was a sure sign that the times were a’changin’ (back to that Lincoln later), but before 2012 was over, Matt had appeared in Magic Mike (2012, 80% RT), Bernie (2012, 89% RT), and Killer Joe (2012, 78% RT), and Mack Brown was on his last legs. And 2013 was even uglier. Acclaimed performances in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, 77% RT), Mud (2013, 98% RT), and a Best Actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club (2013, 94% RT) brought UT football to its knees.

During this era the program saw a revolving door of coordinators that eventually led to the replacement of Mack Brown and Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds. By the time Matt starred in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014, 71%), Mack Brown had traded places with him as the go-to Texas punchline, and the film’s story of humankind rescuing itself from self-destruction eerily mirrored UT’s own existential crisis. New hire Charlie Strong had trouble righting the ship, so to speak, with two losing seasons of his own. McConaughey’s nihilistic ramblings in the Emmy-winning series True Detective (2014, 75%) could easily have come from the lips of any UT fan. The tables had turned, and Matt’s glorious 83% Tomatometer average mirrored the Longhorns’ dismal 54% win percentage.

At this point you’re probably completely convinced that this phenomenon is not just a random correlation, but you’re still scratching your head wondering what connection NCAA football has to the world of cinema. We’re a bit at a loss as well. Maybe all the good juju Matt was projecting to UT football era in the Rom Com Era is now going toward stimulating the hearts and minds of the movie-going world. Maybe Mack Brown is a softie at heart, and couldn’t concentrate on football after Matt left a gaping hole in the romantic comedy ecosystem. These are all solid guesses, but ultimately we don’t know, and frankly, it’s not our job to know. We are but chroniclers of this phenomenon.

And now, intriguingly, the McConaissance may be in its twilight. The actor seems content to spend his free time waxing poetic in a Lincoln town car, and did not star in any films released in 2015. The year 2016 has already seen two commercial and critical flops in Free State of Jones (2016, 45% RT) and Sea of Trees (2016, 10%). And after a gut-wrenching double overtime win against a No. 10 Notre Dame and a thorough domination of UTEP, Texas rocketed into the AP Top 25 Poll at number eleven. Charlie Strong’s vision appeared to be working, and the Longhorns were considered a favorite to win the Big XII.

Unfortunately, Matt’s twang came out briefly in Kubo and the Two Strings (2016, 97%), a critical darling, and the Stephen King adaptation of The Dark Tower (2017), where Matt portrays the Man in Black, has begun generating a lot of buzz, and lo and behold, Texas just lost a heartbreaker to Cal. But most threatening of all is the Stephen Gaghan-directed Gold, a juggernaut set to land in the middle of award season that could crush the Horns’ hopes for a Bowl Game.

UT fans in the know are praying that McConaughey’s best days are behind him, and that the future of their team will be alright, alright, alright, but it seems like the momentum of his “Let It F*cking Rip” speech has drifted into the twilight, and that The McConaissance Part Deux could spell another dark era for Texas football…

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