“Odessa is the setting for this book, but it could be anyplace in this vast land where, on a Friday night, a set of spindly stadium lights rises to the heavens to so powerfully, and so briefly, ignite the darkness.”p. 16
Odessa represents countless small towns across America that treat their high school football teams with reverence. Despite economic woes and social hardships, the lights of a Friday night game ignite their hopes and dreams of a better future. The temporary excitement of the gridiron turns their boys into men; their personal problems are momentarily solved by a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“He responded without the slightest hesitation. 'A big ol’ dumb nigger.'”p. 49
This is a Permian assistant coach’s response to a question about what Boobie Miles would be without football. There is a certain animosity towards Boobie from the coaching staff: Boobie does not take instruction well. He operates on pure talent and instinct for the game. Boobie frequently goes off the plan set before the play. Still, this quote is endemic of racial views among whites in Odessa. To most whites in Odessa, Boobie is the necessary black athletic talent needed to challenge other desegregated schools. Booby is simply a commodity whose status would revert back to derogatory stereotypes once his talent is used up.
“They started chanting something….Some said it was 'Oreo! Oreo!'”p. 370
Racism in Texas football cuts both ways. Bissinger portrays the Carter fans and players as overtly racist and angry. Some fans scream “Oreo” at the black players and coaches on the Permian staff. The connotation alludes to derogatory remarks of race mixing at Permian. This invites the question: is the high school football game a symbol of long-simmering racial aggression?
“Some of the Pepettes spent $100 of their own money to make an individual sign, decorating it with twinkling lights…”p. 27
Many girls at Permian dream of becoming a Pepette. These are girls who exclusively devote themselves to the football players. Each Pepette is assigned to a specific player. They act as domestic servants of their appointed player by cooking them football themed deserts or making signs for them. If a girl is blessed with a keen intellect, they simply “dumb themselves down" to fit into Permian school culture.
“I’ve got no idea what I want to do. I’ve got no idea what school I want to go to. My SAT won’t be worth a shit. And no football school wants me.”p. 308
These are the words of Jerrod McDougal, but they represent the confusion of 95 percent of the boys after Permian football. Every year these heroes of Permian football turn into teenage boys again after their final season is over. One or two lucky ones get a shot at college football but the majority of them are cast aside as fond memories. In the end these boys become a product of decent football training and a mediocre education.
“Charlie Billingsley found out that life in college was a whole lot different …you were a whole lot more expendable in college…there was always a bunch of guys ready to replace you in a second.”p. 63
Like the few boys that were lucky to play college football after high school, Charlie Billingsley found that things were not as he had imagined. At a university like Texas A and M, the men were bigger, faster and stronger than him: above all they had more drive to succeed. Charlie quickly became disenchanted and would finally end up back in Odessa, a mere mortal, old and arthritic, longing for his past days of glory.
“He fit every stereotype of a dumb jock, all of which went to show how meaningless stereotypes can be.”p. 127
This quote is about the only Hispanic player on the team, Brian Chavez. Brian is academically at the top of his classes. He is fearless on the field and in his studies. Unlike most players who don the Permian colors, Brian holds the distinction of potential success strictly on his academic talents. Many of the players on Permian privately admire Brian’s position in life. Despite the daily worship heaped upon them at school, they harbor the knowledge that post high school football success is largely a pipe dream. At least Brian has a straight shot at success regardless if football works out or not.
“My values have not changed a bit since I was your neighbor in the fifties. My values are values like everyone here that I think of: faith , family, and freedom, love of country and hope for the future. Texas values. “p. 177
George Bush, or at least his speechwriters, know exactly how to plant their Republican flag into the hearts and minds of white Odessans. Despite an extended recession leading to foreclosures and family breakup, the struggling white middle class of Odessa cling to the ideals of 1950’s Middle America. The white patriarchal nuclear family is a nostalgic illusion that many people still fantasize about. Their lives certainly don’t reflect it but at least they have the respite of high school football and conservative politics to hang onto.
"Aaron Giebel had begun work on his house –although calling it a house was the same as describing the Statue of Liberty as a figurine….It was as he said, 'a salute to our success.'"p. 206
We are introduced to people like Aaron Giebel of Midland, Odessa’s nearby sister city. He is one example of the many powerful men in West Texas that felt they were captains of their own capitalist fortunes. They won and lost millions of dollars. Despite their belief that they are masters of their own destinies, they are really always at the mercy of OPEC oil and the global oil market. By 1988 the oil economy is a bust. While oil machines lie in the wasteland like rotting carcasses, people like Aaron Giebel know that they are just one Middle East conflict away from reclaiming their destiny.
“But for Boobie, the risks were enormous, it might rekindle the interest of recruiters, who had gone on to whore after other tricks. But by playing there was always the risk of further damage to his knee.”p. 181
When Boobie steps onto the field again, he is an afterthought. Boobie wears the shame of the white jersey that is meant for second-string players. His knee is vulnerable, visible to any player that wants to take a shot at it. Boobie will take the faint hope of reigniting interest in scouts again. The college scouts, however, are only interested in long-term prospects that will lead to money. Despite college football’s armature status, the game can be worth millions of dollars in annual revenue for a school: they expect players like Boobie Miles to return tenfold on their investment.
Friday Night Lights Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Friday Night Lights by H. G. “Buzz” Bissinger.
Possibly one of the very few instances where every other adaptation of it is wildly more popular than the book itself is Friday Night Lights by H. G. “Buzz” Bissinger. Having been made into a critically acclaimed movie, and inspired a multi award-winning television show that spanned five seasons, Friday Night Lights has started a movement of dramatic literature soaked in Football and tremendously realistic portrayals of Middle America. This nonfiction piece was written in 1990, and follows three titular concepts: A town, a team, and a dream.
The book begins with a history of the Texan town of Odessa. Bissinger mentions how it was known as a town of many plagues, including prostitution, rats, polluted water, overcrowding, but despite all that, Odessa High School’s championship win in 1946 led to the town’s eminent pride and obsession with football until this day. Over a decade later, Permian High School opened and quickly became a rival to Odessa high, as demographics shifted and Odessa High became populated with more poor and Hispanic students, while the small black population ended up near Permian and attended that school. Since it’s opening, Permian High School has won multiple championships, making its fans very devoted and serious about football even more so.
In the third chapter, the book begins delving into the characters. With Gary Gaines, the Permian head coach, who is under immense pressure from the townspeople who do not accept loses lightly. James “Boobie” Miles, the black fullback for the Permian High football team who is an example of how bad the school is, by letting him get away with anything, especially his bad grades, because he is the school’s ticket to winning the championship, however his dreams are crushed when he injures his knee during practice, and can’t play football, and now has no chance of getting a scholarship, which is said to also be a perfect example of how the town treats different races when they have no use for them anymore.
Other major characters are Mike Winchell, who receives the entire burden following Boobie’s injury, and who is already prone to nerves, and feels overwhelmed by the pressure put on him from fans and teammates. Don Billingsly, Permian’s starting Tailback is also a player who is under a lot of pressure, but even more so from his father, Charlie Billingsly, a former football player and an Odessa legend, causing Don to screw up a lot, and trying to keep their relationship focused on football, as it is the only thing they have in common.
Bissinger goes into more detail about the school, and how misinformed they are about their children’s wellbeing and future, and how their priorities are screwed up – commenting on how much money the school spends on uniforms, sports doctors and coaches, while only a fraction of that is spent on teachers and education.
The season begins and Permian is winning games. Winchell is blowing up, now that the spotlight is off Boobie, who begs the coach to let him play, but never getting much time on the field because of how serious his injury is. In chapter eleven, Bissinger describes the rivalry of Permian and Midland Lee, another town that shares many similarities with Permian, including their hatred for one another, putting Gaines under great scrutiny and risk of termination when Permian loses their game against Midland Lee. However, at the end of the season, only one team can represent the district in the playoffs, and since both Permian and Midland Lee both have eleven wins and one loss, it will be decided with a coin toss, which Permian wins, and they qualify for the playoffs.
Permian does exceptionally well and win all their qualifying games, and are set to play Dallas’s immensely talented David W. Carter High School Cowboys in the final game. This is the most detailed football written by Bissinger, and he describes the effort put in by each of the players who give no quarter and try their best, but after an incomplete pass, Permian High School players lose 14-9, and return home. These students, considered heroes all season long, will have to continue on with their lives, but the book emphasizes the significance of these kids’ lives, and how much they sacrificed and put into these games, and how it ultimately won’t matter much because for them football is over, but for the rest of the town, another season has begun, and things will never change.
Although Friday Night Lights was written by Buzz Bissinger with the intention of focusing on the team itself, it instead became a critical commentary about the town of Odessa and the state of Texas, and how their obsession with football can ruin lives, and ignite racial tensions throughout Middle America. In fact, the book was widely hated in Odessa, Texas, and the author and his books were banned from their bookstores, but at least it had a huge legacy in the United States, being even more popularized by the movies, TV shows and other pieces of literature that it has inspired since.