HE'S THE QUARTERBACK OF THE FRESHLY MINTED NATIONAL champions, one of the leaders of the LSU Tigers and the life of the party off the field. Matt Flynn is comfortable in the spotlight, but there is one thing that can turn him a shade of red—the fact that he is the spitting image of actor Matt Damon. "He's not shy at all, but for some reason that embarrasses him," says good friend and LSU running back Jacob Hester. � In September 2007 The Advocate of Baton Rouge conducted a poll asking readers what they thought of the comparison, and the overwhelming response (85.2%) was that the two Matts do indeed look very similar. Of course, in Louisiana the feeling is that Matt Damon looks a lot like Matt Flynn. � Flynn knows that being linked with PEOPLE magazine's Sexiest Man Alive "is not a bad comparison," but he knows his brief time in the spotlight has been earned not because of what he looks like but how he has produced when finally given the chance. After three years backing up Marcus Randall and eventual No. 1 NFL draft pick JaMarcus Russell, Flynn came into 2007 as the starting signal-caller for the Tigers. Before the season many LSU followers considered highly touted sophomore Ryan Perrilloux as a serious challenger for the job, but Flynn's solid spring performance eliminated any doubts. The Tigers would go after their second national title in five years with Flynn at the helm.
Two years earlier Flynn had shown he could handle the responsibility of leading the team when he earned offensive MVP honors in the Peach Bowl at the end of the 2005 season. Stepping in for an injured Russell, Flynn directed the Tigers to a 40-3 rout of Miami, throwing for 196 yards and two touchdowns while running for another 39 yards. It was the kind of game he knew he was capable of, but he returned to the bench behind Russell for the '06 season.
"Obviously, JaMarcus was as gifted or more talented in terms of arm strength as anybody else in the world," Flynn says. "He could do things that nobody else could do. It was tough to not be playing, but I never doubted my decision. I knew if I kept working, good things were going to happen."
Things started to fall into place for Flynn when Russell decided to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft. Flynn was one of the first to learn of the decision, and he came into the season knowing he would be doing a lot more than holding on extra points and field goals. Flynn's presence made for a smooth transition at quarterback for LSU, which entered the season with national title aspirations despite losing Russell and three other first-round draft picks.
"Luckily, we had a quarterback that had been here for so long," Hester says. "Even though he hadn't been a starter, he had played in some games and had the leadership skills. Anytime there is a new quarterback, it is a tough situation that takes a couple of games, but with Matt, his experience really helped."
Becoming a leader was natural for Flynn, whom Hester says is "hilarious, but as soon as he steps on the field, he's a different Matt." Flynn likes to quote all things Will Ferrell, with Anchorman being his movie of choice. The team has frequent get-togethers at the house Flynn and backup center Ryan Miller share not far from Tiger Stadium.
Despite the roadblock at quarterback early in his career, Flynn never questioned his decision to attend LSU. The Tyler, Texas, native fell in love with the SEC during his junior year in high school when he and teammate Grant Dickey, who had committed to Alabama, attended an Alabama-Tennessee game in Tuscaloosa. Flynn had been brought up on Southwest Conference and Big 12 football; his father, Alvin, played quarterback at Baylor from 1967 through '69. But there was something about the SEC that took an immediate hold on him. "The atmosphere and everything about it was amazing," says Flynn. "There is something about the tradition of the SEC. It stuck out to me and really made me want to play in the SEC. [Football] is a way of life around here."
There wasn't a lot of time for Flynn to ease into his starting role in 2007 with No. 9 Virginia Tech visiting Baton Rouge on Sept. 8, but he seized the opportunity, directing his offense to 598 total yards in a 48-7 shellacking of a unit that would end the regular season as the No. 2 scoring defense in the country. Flynn completed 17 of 27 passes for 217 yards and ran for a touchdown. LSU appeared ready to roll to the national title game, but that victory turned out to be the Tigers' only decisive win over a quality opponent the rest of the way.
No. 9 Florida visited a month later, and the Tigers rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to win 28-24. The following week LSU lost to Kentucky in triple overtime. The week after that Flynn threw a touchdown pass with one second left as the Tigers nipped Auburn 30-24. Two weeks later LSU erased a 10-point Alabama lead in the third quarter and scored the winning points in the final two minutes of a 41-34 battle. And then on Thanksgiving weekend against Arkansas, another triple-overtime thriller ended in heartbreak. Playing most of the game with a separated right shoulder, Flynn misfired at the end with an interception on the final two-point conversion attempt. Final score: Arkansas 50, LSU 48.
"Matt played one of the greatest games in our program's history [against Arkansas]," Hester says. "Coming out of the locker room after getting shots in his shoulder, he kept throwing for touchdowns and yards. That was one of the gutsiest performances I've seen in a long time."