Loot Sports Book Review: Friday Night Lights

During this slow sports season we call Summer, there’s not a whole lot to write about. Example A: ESPN’s top story today is about New Zealand upsetting Norway in the first round of the women’s World Cup. Yippee…

So what, I’m just gonna lay around and not give you content? No way Jose.

I humbly give you:

A Loot Sports Book Review:

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights is one of the best sports movies of all time. The movie spawned into a television series, and that TV show became one of the best TV dramas of all time. The movie and show were a huge success for many reasons, but I think more than any other reason, it was because they depicted an enormous part of the fabric of America that most people were only vaguely aware of:

Texas high school football.

Because the movie and show were such an awesome watching experience, I read the book that was the originator of it all. I’m sure glad I did, because let me tell ya, as entertaining as the movie and show were, they could only tell one part of this incredible story.

The story of the 1988 Odessa Permian Panthers.

The first part of the book is completely different than what the movie portrayed, in part because the man who wrote this book, H.G. Bissinger, told this story from his first person account.

Bissinger, who was stuck in a dead end job working as an editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, completely upended his life to chase this story. According to him, the idea of covering a Texas high school football team, and how it could galvanize an entire community, had been in his mind since he was 13 years old. After working for the Inquirer, making a decent living for most of his life, the itch to tell this story came creeping back. Bissinger decided one day to quit his job, move his whole family (his wife and 2 young kids) to Odessa, Texas, and cover the Permian Panthers football team during their 1988 season.

From the very beginning of the book, and to my delight, this story very much revolves around the personality and upbringing of Permian’s star running back, Boobie Miles. What the movie depicts most of the time in Boobie is his huge ego, and the book doesn’t disappoint in that regard. However, what the movie couldn’t fully illustrate to the audience was Boobie’s upbringing and the utter hatred of Boobie by his peers and community.

Boobie Miles was as talented of running back as the movie suggests. Going into his senior year, Boobie was considered not only one of the best running backs in the state of Texas, but the entire country. He was getting offers from Texas to Alabama, and was looking like a shoe in to be a #1 running back for a major college football program. Boobie was a foster care kid, who was saved by his uncle LV, which I feel the movie did a fair portrayal of. LV was the one who taught Boobie everything there was to know about football. LV was the one role model in Boobie’s life. Unfortunately, this is about all that is accurate about Boobie Miles in the movie relative to the real story portrayed in the book.

In the movie, Boobie comes off as cocky and brash. He knows how good he is and he lets everyone know about it. But there’s also a lighter side, a side of Boobie that is endearing, a character the town of Odessa ultimately feels bad for. He acts as the same character in the book, with one stark difference: Absolutely no one had any sympathy for Boobie. The town of Odessa hated him, calling him the N word every chance they got. His teammates and coaches all did the same, even going as far as making fun of how stupid he was when he was going through the most difficult part of his young life trying to come back from a devastating injury. The entire book made you feel bad for Boobie because his dream of being a professional football player was cut short. But unlike the movie, the book made you feel a deep sadness for Boobie in another way. A “growing up poor and black in small town Texas” kinda way.

I want to emphasize this, because this was something the movie completely ignored that was a major theme of this book.

1988 Odessa, Texas was RACIST AS FUCK.

Permian High School was literally the last high school in the country to desegregate. Desegregation of schools happened everywhere in the country after the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Odessa didn’t implement desegregation until 1982!

How fuckin crazy is that? The town of Odessa, because of its self appointed “Independent School District” designation, avoided desegregation as long as they could. It was only when a federal U.S. district court ordered them to desegregate that they actually did it. In 1982…

A couple characters I thought the movie did a good job portraying was QB Mike Winchell, and Head Coach Gary Gaines.

Billy Bob Thornton did an incredible job portraying Coach Gaines in the movie. I imagine that was a tough roll to play because coach Gaines was the antithesis of what you would imagine out of a big time Texas high school football coach. The book portrayed him as someone who’s relatively shy. He loved football, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t as vocal as you’d think a Texas high school football coach in the 80s would be. He was great at his job, but many people in Odessa wanted him fired because his timid nature made them think he wasn’t taking the job seriously enough.

One scene the movie played out perfectly was the scene where 3 teams had to flip a coin to see which two teams were going to State. The spectacle of it all was pretty crazy. The book even stated that the coin toss that night garnered more viewers on TV in the state of Texas than the World Series, which was happening at the same time. Another example of just how big high school football is in Texas.

QB Mike Winchell was also cast very well. He was viewed as a God in Odessa, as he started and played really well his Junior year, but Mike was incredibly reserved, barely even speaking to his teammates at times. He put a lot of pressure on himself, and it caused him to not play his best in the bigger moments. It felt like the author Bissinger went into the writing of this book thinking Winchell would be a bigger character than he was. He had to be one of the main characters…he was the quarterback, but his personality wouldn’t lend himself to be the focal point of the story.

Don Billingsly was the best character in the book.

Let me make something clear: Don Billingsly was not the best character in the book because he was like the Don Billingsly in the movie. Don Billingsly was the best character in the book because he was exactly like Tim Riggins from the TV show.

For some reason the movie version of FNL painted Don as more serious. Someone whose dad was physically abusive towards him. That storyline in the movie was totally fabricated. Don in the book was the big guy on campus. All the girls wanted him, and all the guys wanted to be him. If he wasn’t playing football, Don was either drunk or having sex. It’s interesting how/why they chose to portray him differently on the big screen and perfectly on the small screen. Whatever the reason, book Don Billingsly was the most entertaining character of the whole story. He drank in class. He flirted with girls while Bissinger was interviewing him. He invited Bissinger to his parties. Tim Riggins WAS Don Billingsly, and vice versa.

Brian Chavez and Ivory Christian were anomalies.

Brian Chavez was a straight A student with aspirations to go to Harvard. This was very unusual coming from a town and high school that was consistently ranked near the bottom of academics in the whole country. Chavez was definitely a bigger character in the book than he was in the movie. Bissinger actually became very close with the Chavez family, going hunting with them and having as much access to Brian as possible. He remained friends with Brian and his family throughout his life.

Ivory Christian was interesting. The movie portrayed him as a stoic character who never spoke. It was a bit exaggerated, but not much. Ivory was the most talented player on the team, being the only guy to receive a D1 scholarship after high school from TCU. But what made him interesting was the fact that for the most part, Ivory hated football. He couldn’t wait for it to be over. His goal was to be a preacher and be the pastor at the biggest church in the country in California. What’s even more interesting is that his mindset completely changed at the end of his senior year. He ended up playing at TCU, even getting starts as a freshman. Ivory eventually gave up the preacher dream and ended up studying criminology at TCU so that one day he could become a cop.

Now for the part that’s going to disappoint a lot of people who loved the movie.

Yes, the Permian Panthers played the Dallas Carter Cowboys in the state playoffs, and yes, they lost a close game to Carter to end their season.

But it wasn’t the State Championship game…

It wasn’t at Texas Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys played…

They didn’t lose at the last second on the 1 yard line from a heroic run by QB Mike Winchell…

Coach Gary Gaines didn’t give a tear inducing halftime speech talking about winning the game for Boobie Miles…

All of that was Hollywood.

Permian played Carter in the semi-final game.

The game was played in wet and soggy conditions at Memorial Stadium in Austin (where the Longhorns play).

QB Mike Winchell played the worst game of his life, only completing 2 passes.

The game did come down to the last play, but that play was an incomplete pass from the 25 yard line.

Boobie Miles didn’t even go to the game. Nobody wanted him there.

So yes, a lot of the movie was fabricated. But ya know what? I don’t give a hoot.

The movie was great, the TV show was awesome, and the book was one of the more entertaining things I’ve ever read.

So consume one of these mediums or consume them all. No matter how you choose to absorb this story you won’t be disappointed.

Now for the love of god, can we PLEASE get to football season already?!?!


Leave a Reply