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Friday Night Lights


If the season could ever have any salvation, if it could ever make sense again, it would have to come tonight under a flood of stars on the flatiron plains, before thousands of fans who had once anointed him the chosen son but now mostly thought of him as just another nigger.

He felt good when he woke up in the little room that was his, with the poster of Michael Jordan taped to the wall. He felt good as he ate breakfast and talked to his uncle, L. V., who had rescued him from a foster home when he had been a little boy, who had been the one to teach him the game and had shown him how to cut for the corner and swivel his hips and use the stiff arm.

L. V. still had inescapable visions of his nephew Boobie Miles as the best running back in the history of Permian High School, Boobie as the best high school running back in the whole damn state of Texas, Boobie as belle of the ball at Nebraska or Texas A & M or one of those other fantastic college casinos, Boobie as winner of the Heisman. He couldn't get those dreams out of his head, couldn't let go of them. And neither, of course, could Boobie.

There were still some questions about the knee, about how ready Boobie was after the injury two months earlier that had required arthroscopic surgery (they had a tape of it that L. V., who was out of work because of the slump in the oil field, sometimes watched in the afternoon darkness of the living room, just as he sometimes watched other pivotal moments of his nephew's football career).

The Cooper Cougars had thrashed Boobie pretty badly the previous week down in Abilene, headhunting for him to the point that he had to be restrained from getting into a fistfight. But he had held up under the physical punishment, two or three or four tacklers driving into him on many of the plays, the risk always there that they would take a sweet shot at his knee, smash into that still-tender mass of cartilage and ligament with all their might and see how tough the great Boobie Miles really was, see how quickly he got up off the ground after a jolting thwack that sounded like a head-on car collision, see how much he liked the game of football now as fear laced through him and the knee began to feel as tender to the touch as the cheek of a baby, see how the future winner of the Heisman felt as he lay there on the clumpy sod with those Cooper Cougars taunting through the slits in their helmets:

Com'on, Boobie, you tough motherfucker, com'on, let's see how tough you are!

Com'on, get up, get up!

You ain't nothin' but a pussy, a goddamn pussy!

He had made it through, he had survived, although it was clear to everyone that he wasn't the same runner of the year before, the instinct and the streak of meanness replaced by an almost sad tentativeness, a groping for feeling and moments and movements that before had always come as naturally as the muscles that rippled through his upper torso.

But there was a fire in his belly this morning, an intensity and sense of purpose. This game wasn't against a bunch of goody-two-shoes hacks from Abilene, the buckle of the West Texas Bible Belt. It was against Midland Lee-Permian's arch-rivals-the Rebels, those no-good son-of-a-bitch bastard Rebels-under the Friday night lights for the district championship before a crowd of fifteen thousand. If Permian won, it was guaranteed a trip to the most exciting sporting event in the entire world, the Texas high school football playoffs, and a chance to make it all the way, to go to State. Anybody who had ever been there knew what a magic feeling that was, how it forever ranked up there with the handful of other magic feelings you might be lucky enough to have in your life, like getting married or having your first child.

After tonight, Boobie knew the fans would be back in his corner extolling him once again, the young kids who were counting off the years until their own sun-kissed moment excitedly whispering to one another as he walked down the street or through the mall. There he is! That's Boobie! There he is!

The big-time college recruiters would come charging back as well, the boys from Nebraska and Texas A & M and Arkansas and all the others who before the injury had come on to him as shamelessly as a street whore supporting a drug habit, telling him in letter after letter what a fine-looking thing he was with that six-foot, two-hundred-pound frame of his and that 4.6 speed in the forty and how sweet he would look in a uniform in Norman or College Station or Fayetteville and how he should just stick with me, sugar, I'll take good care of you. They would all be there pleading for him, just as they had before the knee injury, before his dreams had so horribly unraveled.

He felt good when he left the little white house that he lived in, where a green pickup truck sat in the bare, litter-strewn yard like a wrecked boat washed up on the shore. He felt good as he made his way out of the Southside part of town, the place where the low-income blacks and Mexicans lived, and crossed the railroad tracks as he headed for Permian over on the northeast side of town, the fancy side of town, the white side of town.

He felt good as he walked into the locker room of the Permian field house that morning and pulled on his jersey with the number 35 on it. He felt good at the pep rally as he and his teammates sat at the front of the gym in little metal chairs that were adorned with dozens of black and white balloons, the decorations making them look like little boys attending a gigantic birthday party. The wild cheering of the entire student body, two thousand strong, above him in the bleachers, the sweet hiss of the pom-poms from the cheerleaders, the sexy preening of the majorettes in their glittery black costumes with hair as intricately laced as frozen drizzles of ice and their tender Marilyn Monroe smiles, the way the lights dimmed during the playing of the alma mater, the little gifts of cookies and candy and cakes from the Pepettes, the pandemonium that broke loose when defensive back Coddi Dean gave the last lines of his verse-

The moral is obvious, it's plain to see
Tonight at Ratliff Stadium, we're gonna stomp on Lee!

-all these things only energized Boobie Miles even more. The feeling came back to him now, the cockiness, the "attitude" as his teammates liked to call it, the self-confidence that had caused him to gain 1,385 yards the previous season and knock vaunted linebackers semi-unconscious. As he sat there, surrounded by all that pulsating frenzy, he could envision sitting in this very same spot a week from now, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd as he picked up the Superstar of the Week award from one of the local television stations for his outstanding performance against the Rebels.

"A person like me can't be stopped. If I put it in my mind, they can't stop me . . . ain't gonna stop me. "See if I can get a first down. Keep pumping my legs up, spin out of it, go for a touchdown, go as far as I can."

That's right. That's how it would feel again, getting that ball, tucking it under his arm, and going forever like someone in the euphoria of flight. Nothing in the world could ever be like it. No other thing could ever compare, running down that field in the glow of those Friday night lights with your legs pumping so high they seemed to touch the sky and thousands on their feet cheering wildly as the gap between you and everyone else just got wider and wider and wider.

After the pep rally he went to class, but it was impossible to concentrate. He sat there in a daze, the messages of algebra and biology and English lost to him. Like most of his other teammates on game day, he couldn't be bothered with classes. They were irrelevant, a sidelight to the true purpose of going to Permian High School: to play football for the Panthers. Only one thought crossed his mind as he sat in those antiseptic, whitewashed classrooms until the middle of the afternoon, and it didn't have anything to do with schoolwork. He desperately wanted to perform well against Midland Lee, to break tackle after tackle, to be Boobie once again.

He didn't seem like a high school football player at all, but an aging prizefighter who knew that if he didn't get a knockout tonight, if he didn't turn his opponent's face into a bloody pulp, if he didn't sting and jab and show the old footwork, he was done, washed up, haunted forever by the promise of what could have been. Could he regain his former footing as a star? Or at the age of eighteen, was he already a has-been?

He felt good as he left class for the day and had a few hours to kill before it was time to go to the field house to suit up.

He felt good.

After classes ended, Jerrod McDougal walked out of school into the parking lot. It didn't take him long to find his black Chevy pickup, perhaps the tallest object in all of Odessa with the thirty-three-inch Desert Dueler treads that made it hard to get into without a stepladder. He climbed inside the cab amid the clutter of cassettes and paper cups. He found what he was looking for and did the same thing he did every Friday afternoon in those lousy waning hours before game time.

The pounding of the drums came on first, then the scream of "Hey!," then the sound of a guitar like that of ten-inch fingernails sliding up and down a blackboard, then explosive sounds moving back and forth between the speakers. There were more guttural yells, more screeching snippets of guitar, then the sudden, ominous wail of an organ that kept building and building and made his heart beat a little faster.

The guitars dug into his ears and the lyrics poured into his veins like liquid fire, the louder the better, the angrier the better, every sound aimed to strike right at the top of the skull and just rattle up there for a little while, get trapped in there, like a ball bouncing repeatedly off a wall:

Lay your hands on me
Lay your hands on me
Lay your hands on me
Lay your hands on me
Lay your hands on me

Thank God for Bon Jovi.

McDougal closed the tiny eyes of his face and leaned his head against the back of the seat. He waited to see if the feeling would be there, as it had been a couple of weeks ago when Permian had beaten the hell out of the Bulldogs, had taught them a thing or two about having the fucking nerve to step on the same field with the Panthers, the Boys in Black. And it was, yes it was, a series of chills shooting down his back straight to his spine like lightning splitting a tree, a tingling feeling that both reassured and excited him. And at that moment, at that very moment, he knew there was no way that Permian could lose to Midland Lee tonight, no fucking way, not as long as he was alive.

It was all that mattered to him, not because it was a ticket to anything or a way out of this town that held as many secrets as the back of his hand. Long before, when he had stopped growing at five nine, he had put away all lofty dreams of playing for the University of Texas, or anywhere else for that matter. He knew that all he was, when you got to the core of it, was an offensive tackle with a lot of heart but little natural ability.

After the season there would be plenty of time to think about college and careers and all that other stuff that a high school senior might want to start thinking about. But not now, not when the most important moment of his life was about to take place. Friday night is what he lived for, bled for, worked so hard for. It sure as hell wasn't school, where he shuffled from one creampuff course to another. It wasn't the prospect of going into the oil business either, where he had watched his father's company, built with sweat and tears, slide through the continued depression in oil prices.

I'm a fighter, I'm a poet
I'm a preacher
I've been to school and
Baby, I've been the teacher
If you show me how to get
Up off the ground
I can show you
How to fly and never
Ever come back down

Thank God for Bon Jovi.

The tingling sensation stayed with him, and he knew that when he stepped on that field tonight he wouldn't feel like a football player at all but like someone much more powerful entering a glittering, barbaric arena.

"It's like the gladiators" was the way he once described it. "It's like the Christians and the lions, like Caesar standing up there and saying yay or nay. There's nineteen thousand fans in the stands and they can't do what you're doing, and they're all cheering for one thing, they're cheering for you. Man, that's a high no drug or booze or woman can give you."

He pulled back into the school parking lot. He left his pickup and entered the locker room of the field house where everything had been laid out the night before with the meticulousness of a Christmas display window, the shoes and the shoulder pads and the socks and the pants all in their proper places, the helmets fresh and gleaming from the weekly hand cleaning by one of the student trainers.

Mike Winchell hated these moments in the field house, wandering around in his uniform as the minutes dripped away with excruciating slowness. Secretly he wished that he could be knocked out and not wake up until five minutes before game time when there was no longer any time to dwell on it. He was the quarterback and that gave him a certain status, because just about everybody in town knew who the quarterback was and the novelty of having his picture in the local paper had worn off long ago. But with all the responsibilities-learning the audible calls and the three-play packages, not getting fooled by that overshifted defense the Rebels liked to run-it was hard not to feel overwhelmed.

He awoke early that day, in the darkness of the shabby house on Texas Avenue that shamed him so much he wouldn-t even let his girlfriend enter it. In silence he had carefully wrapped up some toast and bacon in paper towels so he would have something to eat when he got to school. Then he got his mother up so she could drive him there since, unlike most kids at Permian High School, he didn't have his own car. They barely said anything to each other, because he hated questions about the game. When she dropped him off she whispered, "Good luck," and then left.

Once he got to school he had to go to the pep rally, where his long, angular face, framed by balloons, had a look of delicate sadness as haunting as a Diane Arbus photograph. It was a fascinating face, Huck Finnish, high-cheekboned, yet somehow devoid of expression, the eyes flat and deadened against the roar and tumult that surrounded him, impervious to it, unable to react.

He welcomed going to class afterward, finding relief in the equations spread across the blackboard in algebra II, glad to have something else filling his head besides the thousand and one things that were expected of him. But outside class the pressure intensified again, the Lee game hovering over him like a thundercloud, the incessant questions of the students as he walked through the halls driving him crazy and offering him no escape.

Everyone seemed uptight to him, even the teachers who always dressed up in black on game day. When he walked through the halls of school during the season it wasn't as a proud gladiator, but instead he seemed enveloped in an almost painful shyness, his head ducked to the side and his eyes shifting furtively, fending off questions with one-word answers, especially hating it when people came up to him and asked, "Do y'all think you're gonna win?"

He had first started as a junior, and back then he had been so nervous that the butterflies started on Tuesdays. In the huddle his hands shook. Teammates looked at him and wondered if he was going to make it. But this season he was leading the district in passing and had cut his interceptions down to almost none. A big game against the Rebels would be further vindication, further proof that he had what it took to be a college quarterback in the Southwest Conference.

There could have been other options for him. During the season he had gotten a letter from Brown expressing interest in him because he was not only a decent quarterback but a good student. But for Winchell, who had never been east of the Texas-Louisiana border, the mere idea scared him to death. Rhode Island? Where in God's name was Rhode Island? He looked on a map and there it was, halfway across the earth, so tiny it could move into West Texas overnight and no one would ever know it, taking its anonymous place beside Wink and Kermit and Notrees and Mentone.

"Hell, Brown, that might as well have been in India" was the way he put it. He had read about the Ivy League in the sports pages and seen a few of those games on ESPN where the caliber of play wasn't too bad but it sure as heck wasn't football the way he had grown up to understand football. He also got a nibble of interest from Yale, but when he tried to imagine what these schools were like, all he could think of was people standing around in goofy sweaters with little Y's on the fronts yelling, "Go Yale, beat Brown."

A series of meetings was held in the field house, the five Permian coaches trying to pound in the game plan against Lee one more time. Afterward, as part of a long-standing tradition, all the lights were turned off. Some of the players lay on the floor or slumped against concrete posts. Some listened to music, the tinny sound from their headphones like violent whispering in a serious domestic spat. Winchell, who had gone over the audible calls in his mind yet again, agonized over the wait. It was the worst part of all, the very worst. After several minutes the lights came back on and he and his teammates boarded the yellow school buses waiting outside.

With the flashers of a police escort leading the way so there wouldn't be any wait at the traffic lights, the caravan made its way to Ratliff Stadium like a presidential motorcade.

The sound of vomiting echoed through the dressing room of the stadium, the retching, the physical embodiment of the ambivalence Ivory Christian felt about what he was doing and why he was there. Droplets of sweat trickled down his face as he lay in front of the porcelain. None of the other players paid much notice. They had heard it before and gave little half-smiles. It was just Ivory.

There was so much about football he hated-the practices, the conditioning, the expectations that because he was a captain he had to be Joe Rah-Rah. He wasn't sure if he cared about beating Midland Lee. He wasn't sure if he cared about winning the district championship and getting into the playoffs. Let other players dream their foolish dreams about getting recruited by a big-time school. It wasn't going to happen to him and he figured that after the year was over he would enlist in the Marines or something, maybe buy a Winnebago so he could get out of this place and drive around the country without a care in the world, where no one could get to him.

But the game had a funny hold on him. The elemental savagery of it appealed to him and he was good at it, damn good, strong, fast, quick, a gifted middle linebacker with a future potential he didn't begin to fathom. Severing from it, letting it go, was not going to be as easy as he thought it would be, particularly in Odessa, where if you were big and strong and fast and black it was difficult not to feel as if the whole world expected you to do one thing and one thing only and that was play football. And despite the grim detachment with which he seemed to approach almost everything, he seemed scared to death at the thought of failing at it. He loved it and he hated it and he hated it and he loved it.

After he had finished vomiting, he reappeared in the dressing room with a relieved smile on his face. He had gone through the catharsis. He had gotten it out of his system, the ambivalence, the fear.

Now he was ready to play. Every sound in the dressing room in the final minutes seemed amplified a thousand times-the jagged, repeated rips of athletic tape, the clip of cleats on the concrete floor like that of tap shoes, the tumble of aspirin and Tylenol spilling from plastic bottles like the shaking of bones to ward off evil spirits. The faces of the players were young, but the perfection of their equipment, the gleaming shoes and helmets and the immaculate pants and jerseys, the solemn ritual that was attached to almost everything, made them seem like boys going off to fight a war for the benefit of someone else, unwitting sacrifices to a strange and powerful god.

In the far corner of the dressing room Boobie Miles sat on a bench with his eyes closed, his face a mixture of seriousness and sadness, showing no trace of what this pivotal night would hold for him. Jerrod McDougal, pacing back and forth, went to the bathroom to wipe his face with paper towels. Staring into the mirror, he checked to make sure his shirt was tucked in and the sleeves were taped. He straightened his neck roll and then put on his gloves to protect his hands, the last touches of gladiatorial splendor. It looked good. It looked damn good. In the distance he could hear the Midland Lee band playing "Dixie," and it enraged him. He hated that song and the way those cocky bastards from Lee swaggered to it. His face became like that of an impulse killer, slitty-eyed, filled with anger. Mike Winchell lay on the floor, seduced by its coldness and how good it felt. His eyes closed, but the eyelids still fluttered and you could feel the nervousness churning inside him.

In the silence of that locker room it was hard not to admire these boys as well as fear for them, hard not to get caught up in the intoxicating craziness of it, hard not to whisper "My God!" at how important the game had become, not only to them, but to a town whose spirits crested and fell with each win and each loss. You wished for something to break that tension, a joke, a sigh, a burst of laughter, a simple phrase to convince them that if they lost to the Rebels tonight it wasn't the end of the world, that life would go on as it always had.

Gary Gaines, the coach of Permian, called the team to gather around him. He was a strikingly handsome man with a soft smile and rows of pearly white teeth somehow unstained, as if by divine intervention, from the toxic-looking thumbfuls of tobacco snuff that he snuck between front lip and gum when his wife wasn't around to catch him. He had beautiful eyes, not quite gray, not quite blue, filled with softness and reassurance. His message was short and sincere.

"Nobody rest a play, men. Don't coast on any play. You're on that field, you give it everything you got."

Across the field, in the visitor's dressing room, Earl Miller, the coach of the Rebels, gave similar advice in his thick Texas twang that made every syllable seem as long as a sentence.

"First time you step out on that field, you go down there as hard as you can and bust somebody."

Brian Chavez's eyes bulged as he made his way to the coin toss with the other captains. On one side was Ivory Christian, belching and hiccupping and trying to stop himself from retching again. On the other was Mike Winchell, lost in a trance of intensity. The three of them held hands as they walked down a ramp and then turned a corner to catch the first glimpse of a sheet of fans dressed in black that seemed to stretch forever into the desert night. The farther they moved into the stadium field, the more it felt as if they were entering a fantastic world, a world unlike any other.

The metamorphosis began to take hold of Chavez. When the game began and he took the field, his body would be vibrating and his heart would be beating fast and every muscle in his body would become taut. He knew he would try to hit his opponent as hard as he possibly could from his tight end position, to hurt him, to scare him with his 215-pound frame that was the strongest on the team, to make him think twice about getting back up again.

It was the whole reason he played football, for those hits, for those acts of physical violence that made him tingle and feel wonderful, for those quintessential shots that made him smile from ear to ear and earned him claps on the back from his teammates when he drove some defensive lineman to the sidelines and pinned him right on his butt. He knew he was an asshole when he played, but he figured it was better to be, as he saw it, an "asshole playin" football rather than in real life."

He had no other expectations beyond the physical thrill of it. He didn't have to rely on it or draw all his identity from it. "I played because I like it," he once said. "Others played because it was Permian football. It was their ticket to popularity. It was just a game to me, a high school game."

As the number-one student in his class, his aspirations extended far beyond the glimmer of expectation that a Texas school, any Texas school, might be willing to give him a football scholarship. He had set his sights differently, zeroing in on a target that seemed incomprehensible to his family, his friends, just about everyone. He wanted to go to Harvard.

When he tried to imagine it, he thought it would be like stepping into a different world, a world that was steeped in history and breathtaking and so utterly different from the finite world of Odessa, which spread over the endless horizon like the unshaven stubble of a beard. When he visited it his senior year, he sat by the window of his hotel and watched the rowers along the Charles with their seemingly effortless grace, the strokes of their oars so delicate and perfectly timed as they skimmed along the water past the white domes and the red brick buildings and all those beautiful trees. It didn't seem real to him when he gazed out that window, but more like a painting, beautiful, unfathomable, unattainable.

But now he wasn't thinking about Harvard. Every bone in his body was focused on beating Midland Lee, and he felt so absolutely confident that he had already ordered a district champs patch for his letter jacket. As the coin was being thrown into the air by one of the officials he stared across at Quincy White, Lee's bruising fullback. At that moment Brian felt hatred toward the Rebels, absolute hatred, and he wanted to prove he was the best there was on the damn field, the very best.

The team left the dressing room and gathered behind a huge banner that had been painstakingly made by the cheerleaders. It took up almost half the end zone and was fortified by the Pepettes with pieces of rope like in some scene of war from the Middle Ages. It became a curtain. The players congregated behind it in the liquid, fading light, yelling, screaming, pounding each other on the shoulder pads and the helmets, furious to be finally set loose onto the field, to revel in the thrilling roar of the crowd.

The fans couldn't see the players yet, but they could hear them bellowing behind that banner and they could see their arms and knees and helmets push against it and make it stretch. The buildup was infectious, making one's heart beat faster and faster. Suddenly, like a fantastic present coming unwrapped, the players burst through the sign, ripping it to shreds, little pieces of it floating into the air. They poured out in a steady stream, and the crowd rose to its feet.

The stillness was ruptured by a thousand different sounds smashing into each other in wonderful chaos-deep-throated yells, violent exhortations, giddy screams, hoarse whoops. The people in the stands lost all sight of who they were and what they were supposed to be like, all dignity and restraint thrown aside because of these high school boys in front of them, their boys, their heroes, upon whom they rested all their vicarious thrills, all their dreams. No connection in all of sports was more intimate than this one, the one between town and high school.


Chants of the Permian moniker, which was taken from the title of an old Wilson Pickett song and stuck to the team after a bunch of drunken alumni had yelled the word for no apparent reason during a game in the late sixties, passed through the home side. The visitor's side answered back with equal ferocity:


Each wave of a Confederate flag by a Lee fan was answered by the waving of a white handkerchief by a Permian fan. Each rousing stanza of "Dixie" by the Lee band was answered by an equally rousing stanza of "Grandiose" by the Permian band, each cheer from the Rebelettes matched by one from the Pepettes. Nothing in the world made a difference on this October night except this game illuminating the plains like a three-hour Broadway finale.

Permian took the opening kickoff and moved down the field with the methodical precision that had made it a legend throughout the state of Texas. An easy touchdown, a quick and bloodless 7-0 lead. But Lee, a twenty-one-point underdog, came back with a touchdown of its own to tie the game. Early in the second quarter, a field goal gave the Rebels a 10-7 lead.

Permian responded with a seventy-seven-yard drive to make it 14-10. Chris Comer, the new great black hope who had replaced Boobie Miles in the backfield, carried the ball seven of nine plays and went over a thousand yards for the season.

Earlier in the season, Boobie had cheered on Comer's accomplishments with a proud smile. As the season progressed and Comer became a star while Boobie languished, the cheers stopped.

He made no acknowledgment of Comer's score. He sat on the bench, his eyes staring straight ahead, burning with a mixture of misery and anger as it became clear to him that the coaches had no intention of playing him tonight, that they were willing to test his knee out in meaningless runaways but not in games that counted. His helmet was off and he wore a black stocking cap over his head. The arm pads he liked still dangled from his jersey. The towel bearing the legend "terminator x," from the name of one of the members of the rap group Public Enemy, hung from his waist, spotless and unsullied. The stadium was lit up like a dance floor, its green surface shimmering and shining in the lights, and his uniform appeared like a glittering tuxedo loaded down with every conceivable extra. But it made him look silly, like one of those kids dressed to the nines to conceal the fact that they were unpopular and couldn't dance a lick. He sat on the bench and felt a coldness swirl through him, as if something sacred inside him was dying, as if every dream in his life was fleeing from him and all he could do was sit there and watch it disappear amid all those roars that had once been for him.

With 2:27 left in the half, Winchell threw the finest pass of his life, a sixty-yard bomb to Lloyd Hill, to make the score 21-10. But then, with less than ten seconds left, Lee scored after connecting on a forty-nine-yard Hail Mary pass that unfolded like a Rube Goldberg drawing, the ball fluttering off the hands and helmets and shoulder pads of several Permian defenders before somehow settling into the hands of a receiver who had never caught a varsity pass in his life. Lee's try for a two-point conversion failed.

The score was 21-16 at halftime.

The Permian players came off the field exhausted, in for a fight they had never quite expected. The gray shirts they wore underneath their jerseys were soaked. Winchell, who had taken a massive hit in the first half, felt dizzy and disoriented. They grabbed red cups of Coke and sat in front of their locker stalls trying to get their breath, the strange Lee touchdown at the end of the half a weird and scary omen. There was hardly a sound, hardly a movement. The players seemed more shell-shocked than frantic, and few even noticed when Boobie flung his shoulder pads against the wall.

In a furious rage he threw his equipment into a travel bag and started to walk out the door. He had had it. He was quitting at halftime of the biggest game of the year. He couldn't bear to watch it anymore, to be humiliated in those lights where everyone in the world could stare at him and know that he wasn't a star anymore, just some two-bit substitute who might get a chance to play if someone got hurt.

None of the varsity coaches made a move to stop him; it was clear that Boobie had become an expendable property. If he wanted to quit, let him go and good riddance. But Nate Hearne, a black junior varsity football coach whose primary responsibility was to handle the black players on the team, herded him into the trainer's room to try to calm him down, to somehow salvage what little of his psyche hadn't already been destroyed.

Boobie stood in the corner of the darkened room with his arms folded and his head turned down toward the floor, as if protecting himself from any more pain. "I quit, coach, they got a good season goin'," he said, his tone filled with the quiet hurt of a child who can't process the shame of what has happened except to run from it.

"Come on, man, don't do this."

"Why'd [Gaines] play me the last weekend and the weekend before that?"

"I know how hard it is. Don't quit now. Come on."

"That's why I'm gonna quit. They can do it without me."

"Everything's gonna be all right. Everybody knows how it feels to be on the sidelines when he should be out there."

"Could have hurt [my knee] last week, could have hurt it the week before. He didn't think about it then."

"You'll be all right. Just hang tough for now. The team needs you. You know we need you. Use your head. Don't let one night destroy everything."

"Why not just quit?"

"This is one game. We got six games down the line."

"Six games to sit on the sidelines."

"We're almost there and now you want to do this, don't do this."

"Next week it ain't gonna be a new story because I ain't gonna play. Just leave me alone, and I'll get out of here."

"You can't walk off now, in the middle of a game. You just can't walk off in the middle of a game."

"I'm just gonna leave because I ain't gonna sit on the sidelines for no one. I see what it's all about.

"What's it all about?"

"I'm a guinea pig."

It went on a little longer, Hearne's heartfelt understanding in contrast to the attitude of most of the other members of the Permian football staff who derided Boobie, who had grown weary of his emotional outbursts and privately called him lazy, and stupid, and shiftless, and selfish, and casually described him as just another "dumb nigger" if he couldn't carry a football under his arm.

Reluctantly, Boobie left the trainer's room and walked back out to the dressing room. Without emotion, he put on his hip pads and shoulder pads. Carefully, meticulously, he tucked his terminator x towel into the belt of his pants and put that ridiculous costume back on again because that's what it was now, a costume, a Halloween outfit. He went back out on the field, but it no longer had any promise. When players tried to talk to him, he said nothing. The Rebels scored early in the fourth quarter on a one-yard run to take a one-point lead, 22-21. The Lee band broke into "Dixie" and the taunting chant, now stronger than ever, resumed:


With about six minutes left Permian moved to a first and ten at the Lee 18, but the drive stalled and a thirty-yard field goal was blocked.

Permian got the ball back at its own 26 with 2:55 left in the game, but instead of confidence in the huddle there was fear. Chavez could see it in the eyes of the offensive linemen. He tapped them on the helmet and said, "Com'on, let's get it, this is it." But he could tell they weren't listening. The game was slipping away.

They were going to lose. They were goddamn going to lose and everything they had worked for for the past six years of their lives, everything they cared about, was about to be ruined.

Winchell, after the glorious touchdown pass he had thrown, now seemed hunted by failure. His face was etched in agony, the passes coming off his hand in a tentative, jerky motion, thrown desperately without rhythm. The Lee fans were on their feet. There was the incessant beat of the drums from the band. Both sides were screaming their hearts out.



How could a seventeen-year-old kid concentrate at a moment like this amid the frenzy of fifteen thousand fans? How could he possibly keep his poise?

With a third and ten at the Lee 41, flanker Robert Brown broke free down the left sideline after his defender fell down, but the ball was thrown way out of bounds.

"Fuck! Winchell!" screamed starting linebacker Chad Payne from the sidelines as the ball fluttered helplessly beyond Brown's grasp. With a fourth and ten, another pass fell incomplete.

It wasn't even close.

Jerrod McDougal watched as the Lee players fell all over each other on the field like kittens. He watched as they spit contemptuously on the field, his field, goddammit, his fucking field, defiling it, disgracing it, and never in his life had he felt such humiliation. Some gladiator he was, some heroic gladiator. In the dressing room he started to cry, his right hand draped tenderly around the bowed head of linebacker Greg Sweatt, who was sobbing also. With his other hand he punched a wall. Chavez and Winchell sat in silence, and Ivory Christian felt that creeping numbness. With a three-way tie for first and only one game left in the regular season, now Permian might not get into the state playoffs. But that wasn't potentially devastating to Ivory. There had to be something else in life, if only he could figure out what it was.

Boobie officially quit the team two days later. But no one paid much attention. There were a lot more important things to worry about than that pain-in-the-ass prima donna with a bad knee who couldn't cut worth a crap anymore anyway. There were plenty more on the Southside where he came from.

The loss to Lee sent Odessa into a tailspin, so unthinkable, so catastrophic was it. As in a civil war, goodwill and love disintegrated and members of the town turned on each other.

Gaines himself was distraught, a year's worth of work wasted, the chorus against him only growing stronger that he was a very nice man who wasn't a very good coach when it counted. When he got back to the field house he stayed in the coaches' office long past midnight, still mulling over what had happened and why the eighteen-hour days he had spent preparing for the Rebels had not paid off. The idea of a team with this kind of talent not making the playoffs seemed impossible, but now it might happen. And if it did, he had to wonder if he would be in the same job next year.

When he went home late that night, several for sale signs had been punched into his lawn, a not-so-subtle hint that maybe it would be best for everyone if he just got the hell out of town. He took them and dumped them in the garage along with the other ones he had already collected. He wasn't surprised by them.

After all, he was a high school football coach, and after all, this was Odessa, where Bob Rutherford, an affable realtor in town, might as well have been speaking for thousands when he casually said one day as if talking about the need for a rainstorm to settle the dust, "Life really wouldn't be worth livin' if you didn't have a high school football team to support."

Excerpted from Friday Night Lights © Copyright 2005 by H.G. Bissinger. Reprinted with permission by Da Capo Press. All rights reserved.

Friday Night Lights
by by H.G. Bissinger

  • paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • ISBN-10: 0306809907
  • ISBN-13: 9780306809903