I admit it, I was kind of bored and I was walking by my bookshelf and I saw my dog eared copy of Friday Night Lights. Now for those that read the book and didn't just go by the movie. The book is an amazing look at a I guess you'd call it small town Texas power house football team, that had a long history of success. The book actually follows the 1989 season of the Permian Panthers coached by Gary Gaines who was portrayed by Billy Bob Thorton. But the book is about more then the X's and O's of a football team, its a snapshot into a year in the life of a town wracked by economic disaster due to a drop in the Oil Business, a town divided by racism and a failing educational system, and a school split along the lines of whites Latino's and Blacks.
At times the book is uncomfortable, a chapter that discusses the casual use of the term ######, a town that even in 1988 was still resentful of the idea of desegregation of the schools. But at the heart of it all the Panthers were held up as a tremendous source of pride.
While the season could be considered a success by most fans or coaches of other programs, it was a bit of an underachievement. A loss to key rival Midland Lee forced a coin flip to see if the Panthers would make the playoffs, and the team was simply overwhelmed by the Dallas Carter Cowboys in the State Semifinals. However its important to note that the next year Gaines lead the team to a 16-0 record a state championship. Its also important to note that the Carter Cowboys, who went onto win the State Championships were stripped of their title for using an academically ineligible player.
The character that we knew so well in the movies, the Don Billingsly, Chris Comer, Mike Winchell and Brian Chavez were slightly exaggerated in the movies but fairly accurately done. Billingsly the undersized fullback who became a hero, who was the epitome of a player who went to school to play football and was failed by the system until he finally left Odessa and later got his masters degree. Mike Winchell the QB that was deemed as weak under pressure in the book but later rose above it. Chris Comer who stepped in for James "Boobie" Miles and thrived and Brian Chavez who in the movie was a safety but in real life was a vicious tight end who went to Harvard and became a lawyer before returning home.
But the two most interesting characters were Ivory Christenson a linebacker who hated football and wanted to quit. And Boobie Miles a running back with big league talent who threw it all away and was utterly failed by the system. A player that the coaches called "Just another ######". It was sad to read about Boobie who in the movie became a better person and a key piece of motivation for the team, but in real life quit the team after his knee injury and struggled for a long time afterwords.
For a long time the town of Odessa felt betrayed by the book, they felt that they had let the author into their homes and lives and he painted him in the worst possible light, but nearly 30 years later when asked some people credit him with helping the town make some significant changes in their attitudes.
I thought it would be interesting to post up some videos of the actual team, especially the loss to Midland Lee. When you watch these films, its amazing how fluid their game is, and how well coached these players were.
The loss in this game lead to the infamous coin toss
25 years later with Christianson, Chavez and Winchell
Good Night America . . . Wherever you are
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