October 29, 2010
Jim Weber runs the college football and men’s basketball site LostLettermen.com and is a frequent contributor to Yahoo! Sports Blogs.
Most people know Matthew Fox as either hunky older brother Charlie Salinger from the 1990s hit series "Party of Five" or self-tortured hero Dr. Jack Shephard from the recently finished cult show, "Lost."
But one real-life role Fox played that very few people know about was gritty wide receiver on one of the worst college football teams of all time (there’s probably a TV movie in there somewhere).
[Photos: More of 'Lost' actor Matthew Fox]
Having grown up in middle-of-nowhere Crowheart, Wyo., Fox went for a postgraduate year at the preppy Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. There, the 6-foot-2 Fox caught the eye of Columbia and arrived on campus as a wideout in 1985.
The best way to describe the Lions at that time? Cowardly. They went 0-9 in 1984 and hadn't won a game since October of 1983. Things didn't get any better with Fox on board. In his first three seasons, the Lions went a combined 0-30.
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The streak looked like it was going to come to an end in 1985 when Columbia led Harvard 17-0 with five minutes to go in the third quarter. The Crimson ended up winning, 49-17. Oops.
The low point came on Oct. 10, 1987, when Princeton blew out Columbia with star senior safety Dean Cain roaming the secondary. The loss was Columbia's 35th in a row, setting a Division I record for ineptitude and turning the team into a national punch line.
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Fox started his senior season 0-3 and stretched the record losing streak (since broken) to 44 games. But the football gods finally smiled down upon him on a rainy day in Manhattan. Despite Fox’s touchdown catch being called back on a penalty, the Lions held a 16-13 lead over Princeton in the final seconds. But the Tigers, led by future NFL quarterback and current Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, got in position for a game-tying 48-yard field goal on the final play.
But the kick fell short, giving Columbia its first win in five years and setting off a wild celebration on campus.
"More than anything, I remember the immense relief and euphoria that win brought," Fox told Sports Illustrated years later. "We had gotten the crap knocked out of us for a long time. Every week we lost, we were news. Then the goal posts came down, and the campus partied for two days."
The Lions won one more game that season, bringing Fox's career record to a whopping 2-38.
"We didn't get any of the benefits of being football heroes," Fox told Playboy earlier this year.
Well, it’s kind of hard when you win twice in four years.
But he seemed destined for life in show business; even Fox’s Columbia football headshot looks like something out of a GQ photo shoot -- which is fitting because he actually started modeling and acting in commercials his freshman year to help pay the bills.
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The economics major fell in love with the movie "Wall Street" during college but after graduating in 1989, a nightmare interview with an investment bank led him to pursue modeling and acting further until he landed his first TV role in the comedy "Wings" three years later.
As you can see, Fox's early acting work was a little rough.
But hey, when you compare that with his football career, it looks downright Oscar-worthy.