Friday Night Lights

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Themes and Colors
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Race and Racial Divisions Theme Icon
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
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H. G. (“Buzz”) Bissinger’s Friday Nights Lights is an examination of football in one especially football-mad part of the country: the small town of Odessa, in West Texas. Football is the most popular sport in the region, and high-school football games dominate the cultures of the region’s communities. Some games draw 15,000-20,000 fans—large percentages of the population. The Permian stadium is a sea of black during games. Bissinger explores the influence of football in Odessa, and the performance of one team, the Permian High School Panthers (also nicknamed “Mojo”), who have been successful since the 1960s. Bissinger tracks six important players on that team, all seniors: Boobie Miles, Brian Chavez, Jerrod McDougal, Don Billingsley, Mike Winchell, and Ivory Christian. Bissinger also follows the life of the coach—Gary Gaines—and interviews other educational, sports, and political figures in the region, who relate in some way to the Permian Panthers.

Bissinger finds that, in Odessa, football also serves as a metaphor for the way people live their lives and for what they value. Odessa is oil country, a tough patch of desert—not an easy place to raise a family or earn a steady living. The economy, toward the end of the 1980s, has been floundering. Football is not just a game the community can rally around, but a sign of resolve and strength, including: one’s ability to endure through pain; one’s ability to master self-doubt, despite physical disadvantage; and one’s faith-system and ethics. Coaches fault Boobie, for example—despite an unlucky knee injury—because they feel he has not practiced hard enough, and does not put the team’s achievements before his own. The town of Odessa sees its own values reflected in the grit and hard work of the Permian Panthers football team, and judges the team and the players on that basis.

Bissinger demonstrates that football is not simply entertainment, but a way for Odessans to salve the pain of a life that is, outside the confines of the stadium, complex, confusing, and often disheartening. Indeed, many citizens of Odessa, quoted throughout the book, argue that, without Permian football, their lives in West Texas would be almost meaningless. Although Bissinger quotes these men and women without much comment, it is clear that he wonders, throughout the book, whether the football successes and failures of 17- and 18-year-olds are important enough to warrant such devotion. Bissinger also demonstrates the attention that could be paid to other aspects of these Texas communities that suffer, even as the football teams succeed.

Bissinger concludes on a mixed note. For him, football is still an exciting game, one of passion and athletic excellence. But Bissinger also notes the toll the game takes on the players and fans: physical, economic, even moral.

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Football Quotes in Friday Night Lights

Below you will find the important quotes in Friday Night Lights related to the theme of Football.
Prologue Quotes

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 . . . entering a glittering, barbaric arena.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Jerrod McDougal
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Jerrod is preparing for a "big game," and Bissinger goes to great lengths to show that, for the Panthers, each game is bigger than the next. Football, for these high school juniors and seniors, is the center of their lives. Winning and losing are not only aspects of that game—they are aspects of a life lived well, in a town (Odessa) where other kinds of success (namely, economic) are relatively hard to come by, and harder to maintain.

Bissinger explicitly compares football to the combat of ancient Roman gladiators here, and though that analogy might seem forced at this point, it holds up as the books goes on. Players are often injured for the cause. People in the stands cheer when their team wins, and boo harshly for their opponents. And the game is at the center of the town's social life: hence the "Friday Night Lights" of the book's title, which bathe Odessa in a cool glow once a week in the fall. 


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Boobie stood in the corner of the darkened room with his arms folded . . . ‘I quit, coach, they got a good season goin’.’

Related Characters: Boobie Miles (speaker), Nate Hearne
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Boobie is upset that his season might be over, and that he won't get a chance to prove himself on the field because of his injury. Football has helped Boobie to escape a difficult childhood, and his caretaker, LV, has encouraged Boobie to focus on being a great running back, perhaps at the expense of Boobie's classroom education. So there is a lot riding on Boobie's time at Permian; he can only go to college if he receives an athletic scholarship.

But this passage is also tinged with the racial politics that run throughout the book. Black coaches for the Permian Panthers tend to support black players, and white coaches white players. Sometimes white coaches express the idea that certain black players are more concerned with their individual achievements than with team ones. These criticisms aren't fair, nor are they grounded in reasoned opinions. Instead, Permian exhibits the same racial prejudices—largely of white Americans against Latino/a and African Americans—that can be found throughout Texas, and indeed throughout the country, toward the end of the twentieth century. 

Chapter 2: The Watermelon Feed Quotes

The fans clutched in their hands the 1988 Permian football yearbook, published annually by the booster club . . . It ran 224 pages, had 513 individual advertisements, and raised $20,000.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

The football yearbook is another physical example of the centrality of Permian football to the Odessa community. When the team wins, fans remember those players forever, and the yearbook is enormous with ads for businesses. Everyone likes to be associated with a winner, and local shops are immensely eager, during "boom" times for the team, to put their name next to images of the Permian Panthers being victorious on the field.

When the Panthers are less successful, however, the yearbook isn't quite so ample. Thus Bissinger notes, through his reporting of the social events associated with the team, that winning and losing can trump team loyalty even in such a football-crazy and football-loyal a community as Odessa. Although people really do love their Panthers, and love their players, they love even more the idea of being the best in the state of Texas. 

The standing ovation that he received at the Watermelon Feed wasn’t particularly surprising. Just as he was used to football injuries, he was also used to lavish attention, as was every former Permian player who had once been ordained a star. So many people had come up to him when he was a senior that he couldn’t keep track of their names . . . .

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Shawn Crow
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Shawn Crow is an old star for the Permian Panthers—not old in years, but barely a year past his prime, and therefore too old to compete on the field. Although his team was successful, Crow has seen his own future tied to the injuries he sustained on the field, which have kept him out of a successful college career up to this point. In Odessa, football is a ticket to an all-expenses-paid college education. But there is a paradox: punching that ticket, working hard to be a great player, often means forgoing the academic activities in high school that could actually prepare someone for an effective college experience.

Thus Shawn Crow is an indicator both of the adulation showered on Permian players, and of the problems that beset those players when they are no longer on the team. Shawn is a "legend," but his own life seems far more difficult and aimless after high school than it did when he was wearing a Permian jersey. 

Chapter 3: Boobie Quotes

My last year . . . I want to win State. You get your picture took and a lot of college people look at you. When you get old, you say, you know, I went to State in nineteen eighty-eight.

Related Characters: Boobie Miles (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Boobie is repeating what is, for the players, a common refrain: that winning the state championships would be a crowning achievement in life. Boobie says this because, it must be admitted, he wants some of the glory for himself. But the truth is, all the players for Permian want some of this personal glory—and all the players enjoy the adulation they receive from classmates when they walk through the halls. Boobie is no exception to this.

What is perhaps different, for Boobie, is the centrality of football to his life, both as a young man and as a young African American man in Odessa. For others on the team, there are lives of potential that unfold beyond the football field, as gainful employment is easily available to them after a stint in college. These opportunities are technically available to Boobie as well, but anti-black prejudice in Odessa is a powerful thing. Boobie (when he is successful) is an emblem of the team's football power, when otherwise he is rarely treated by his white classmates as a person deserving of respect. Thus, for Boobie, football success takes on other layers of importance. 

I won’t be able to play college football, man . . . It’s real important. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I want to make it in the pros . . . .

Related Characters: Boobie Miles (speaker), Trapper
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an extension of Boobie's desires as expressed in the quotation above. For Boobie, playing in college and in the pros is a way of continuing the kind of adulation and personal affirmation he receives as a high-school player. Although these are very difficult dreams to achieve, Boobie believes—and perhaps rightfully so—that he has the talent to make it. And as above, a professional football career is one of a relatively limited set of options available to young African American men in the region. 

What Boobie unfortunately does not have, and what is also required to succeed in football beyond college, is a good deal of luck, especially with injuries. Football is a brutal sport, and people are often injured so severely they cannot return to the field for months, or a year—or ever. Boobie's knee injury is serious enough to limit his explosiveness, which causes him to lose his ability to "cut" on the field. This loss means he is a less highly-touted recruit.

Chapter 4: Dreaming of Heroes Quotes

After Billy died, Mike’s life didn’t get any easier. He had a brother who was sent to prison for stealing. At home he lived with his mother, who worked at a service station convenience store as a clerk. They didn’t have much money. . . . His mother was enormously quiet and reserved, almost like a phantom. Coach Gaines, who spent almost as much time dealing with parents as he did with the players, had never met her.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Gary Gaines, Mike Winchell
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger moves on to describe the physical, emotional, and financial deprivations of another member of the Permian Panthers. For Mike Winchell, life has more or less always been difficult. Football, though it seems brutal from the stands, is actually a form of comfort to him. The game has rules that can be followed, and there is a winner and a loser. This is true for many of the Permian Panthers: the violence of the football field is nothing compared to the difficulties one encounters at home or in school.

Bissinger's description of Mike's family life indicates some other features of life in the Odessa region. There is a sense of reserve throughout the place, especially among families who have lived in rural communities for a long time—an unwillingness to complain openly about the difficulties that have wracked their lives. This then exists in contrast to the showiness of the football displays, the parades, and the booms of oil wealth. These contradictions—the quiet "grin and bear it" attitude mixed with the flash and pizzazz of a football parade—are the foundations of the Odessa community. 

Chapter 5: Black and White Quotes

It wasn’t necessary to live in Odessa for long to realize that the Permian football team wasn’t just a high school team but a sacrosanct white institution. “Mojo seemed to have a mystical charm to it,” Hurd said.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Laurence Hurd (speaker)
Related Symbols: Black and White
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Hurd points to an important component of the "Mojo" experience—that it is reserved primarily for white fans. This does not mean that black players can't participate and help the team. Indeed, coaches are all too happy to play whichever players will give the Panthers the best chance of winning the state tournament. But the special adulation of the "Mojo" fans is often reserved for the white stars, who are showered with praise.

Hurd is therefore acknowledging that Panthers football reflects, in a frustrating and profound way, the racial divisions of Texas (and Southern, and American) society well into the twentieth century, even after the gains of the Civil Rights era. Although everyone is permitted to play on the team—as would be legally required—the way the town treats, and celebrates, its players still falls into the same categories of racial bias. 

Chapter 6: The Ambivalence of Ivory Quotes

Pastor Hanson welcomed Ivory’s conversion. He knew that Ivory was an influential kid whose actions made a tremendous impression on his peers. But there was something worrisome about it, and he didn’t want Ivory moving from one world of isolation into another where the only difference was the level of standards.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Ivory Christian, Pastor Hanson
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

Pastor Hanson recognizes that Ivory's religious feeling is genuine. But he also knows that Permian football players are accustomed to all manner of "special treatment"—they are celebrities in the community. Ivory's desire to become a more active member of the church is grounded in his willingness to learn and to educate. He also sees religion as a means of orienting and directing his life outside football.

But the allure of the football team remains strong for Ivory. This isn't to say that Christian values and Permian's football culture are incompatible—indeed, many of the players pray before they play the game. But Ivory's active involvement in his church takes time away from practice and preparation on the field. Eventually, it is the pull of a possible college football career, and not religion, that will direct Ivory's life in Odessa. 

They would still be gladiators, the ones who were envied by everyone else . . . who got the best girls and laughed the loudest and strutted so proudly through the halls of school as if it was their own wonderful, private kingdom.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger notes here that, although the team might (occasionally) lose, the allure of Permian football is powerful enough to maintain student interest. The expectation, of course, is that the team will eventually recover, and that players will again be perceived as gods in the town. Football players will receive special treatment, special allowances for missed homework and absences from school—in short, the football machinery of Permian High will continue to chug along.

But when the team still celebrates despite not winning a particular game, what is missing is the feeling of invincibility that the squad has cultivated. Bissinger implies here that even the most successful teams will, eventually, graduate, and be forced into a world in which winning and losing are not so clearly demarcated. In these circumstances, players must cope with a new set of "rules" determining how adults behave. The envy that current students feel for current football players then turns into a much more distant respect for former players. 

Chapter 8: East Versus West Quotes

We know that OHS is going to be fired to the hilt and I want to match them emotion for emotion . . . It’s gonna be a big crowd. It’s an exciting game. I wish everybody that has an opportunity to play the gam of football all over the United States had an opportunity to play in a game like this. You’re part of a select group.

Related Characters: Gary Gaines (speaker)
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Gary Gaines wants to make sure his players understand the importance of the crosstown rivalry game with Odessa High. Permian has long been the football power in the community, drawing players from the generally wealthier, more developed part of town. This does not mean, however, that Odessa is entirely unable to compete, or that Permian can "sleepwalk" its way through the game and expect to win.

Gaines also notes what many of the players feel—that football season is, essentially, the emotional pinnacle of their lives, and that winning on the field does in fact mean that they have "won," at least in this portion of their lives. Gaines might understand that this is a large burden to place on the shoulders of a young person. But that does not keep him from encouraging the players to work as hard as possible to earn another victory.

The Mojo mystique was purely an east-side creation, and Permian supporters would almost certainly put up a hellacious fight if they were suddenly told they had to share it with people who didn’t act like them or think like them.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger underscores here just how "imagined" the community of Permian football really is. It belongs not to the entirety of Odessa but only to the wealthier east side of town—and there have been rumblings that, perhaps, Odessa High might be merged with Permian. This upsets many boosters, who feel that Permian has a special place in the area's culture, one that should not be messed with.

Of course, this "culture" is also tinged with racial politics. Permian is a largely white district. And though there are black players on the team, some of whom are stars, these players appear to fill a very particular role on the team (in the eyes of certain white players and fans). Black players, in other words, can contribute to Permian football, and help the team win, but they cannot ever be full members of the football community that is defined by the (largely white) "Mojo mystique."

Chapter 10: Boobie Who? Quotes

For LV, watching Boobie play against Abilene had been harrowing. On every play he couldn’t help but worry that his nephew would do further damage to his knee, even though the brace did provide good protection. He saw the emotional effect the injury was having on Boobie—the prolonged periods of depression as one Friday night after another just came and went.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Boobie Miles, LV
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

LV understands that football, and then the lack of football, have severe emotional effects on Boobie. Boobie was immensely successful at a very young age, and was injured according to a stroke of bad luck—there was nothing he could do to prevent the tearing of his ACL. The depression Boobie feels, severe as it is, is an indicator of what awaits, in some form,for  many Permian players after their high-school football days are over. This is the boom-bust of the high-school star's career. First there is great acclaim, and the power of the "Friday Night Lights." But later there is an entire life to live, and very little direction as to how to live it.

After Boobie has been injured, LV recognizes that perhaps it was not the best policy for him, and for Boobie, to place so much emphasis on a college and pro career in football. But their gamble is an understandable one, as football provides a way out of relative poverty for so many in the Odessa community (and particularly for young black men). 

Chapter 12: Civil War Quotes

His ear had been throbbing for about two months, and it was just one of several ailments that had come up during the course of the season. He was glassy-eyed and barely able to say a word, his thoughts still fixed on what had happened on the field . . . .

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Gary Gaines, Sharon Gaines
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

In many ways, Gary Gaines has a good job—he is paid well for what he does, and his name is known throughout the community. But being the head coach of the Permian Panthers comes with an immense load of stress. Gaines is expected to win, and to win consistently. He is not given much leeway in terms of performance. He can lose on occasion, but he cannot make a habit of it—not for the boosters of the Permian team, who view success as part and parcel of the "Mojo mystique."

These pressures take their toll on Gaines. He does not complain about them openly, but his wife and family also participate in the difficulties of the football season, and they worry about Gaines' health as it is connected to the success of his players.

How could he have called the plays he did? What had happened to him in the second half, going time and time again with those plodding, thudding sweeps? Didn’t he remember the gorgeous bomb Winchell had thrown in the second quarter, so perfect it was like something in a dream? . . . .

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Gary Gaines, Mike Winchell
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Bissinger imitates the complaints that Permian fans might lodge against Gaines when the game does not go his way. This is how coaching is difficult: fans, who do not have an immediate inroad into the team's construction and game-plan, nevertheless feel that they are part of the Permian Panthers, and therefore more than able to comment on the teams' on-field performance.

Gaines understands that these complaints, and the handling of them, are part of the job of the head coach of the "Mojo" squad. He does his best to take them in stride. But Bissinger notes just how taxing it can be to drown out the noise that some of even the most devoted fans direct at their beloved team. People love Permian football, but they love it in no small part because the team is so wildly successful so much of the time.

Chapter 13: Heads or Tails Quotes

As he tried to console them, there came a sound of high school football as familiar as the cheering, as familiar as the unabashed blare of the band . . . it was the sound of teenage boys weeping uncontrollably over a segment of their lives that they knew had just ended forever.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger notes that the cruelty of the football season and its dependence on sheer luck can be understood physically in the form of the coin toss to determine playoff participants (in the case of a tied record). In this scene, Bissinger describes the many young men weeping over the fact that their "fates" have been decided by something so arbitrary. And yet the "win-lose" proposition of a coin toss is no more arbitrary than other chance-determined aspects of the football season: who has a good year, who gets hurt. 

However, what is also true about these teenage boys is there lives remain ahead of them. Only in the world of Texas football would a room filled with 18-year olds also be filled with dread of the future, and the feeling that one's best years are behind them. This, Bissinger argues implicitly, is one of the most destructive attitudes of the Permian football culture. 

Chapter 14: Friday Night Addiction Quotes

Dear God, we’re thankful for this day, we’re thankful for this opportunity you’ve given us to display the talent that you’ve blessed us with. Heavenly Father, we thank you for these men and these black jersies, tank you for the ability that you’ve given ‘em and the character that you’ve given ‘em.

Related Characters: Gary Gaines (speaker)
Related Symbols: Black and White
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

Coach Gaines here argues that it is indeed a divine blessing to be able to coach for, play for, and root for the Permian Panthers. Bissinger takes this relationship between religion and football seriously. He does not wish to make fun of Gaines, who genuinely believes that it is an honor and privilege to play for Permian High. And Bissinger does not poke fun at the players and fans, for whom religion is an integral part of life, as is football. Why, Bissinger seems to ask, would these two tenants need to be separate, after all? If there is Divine Wisdom in all things, surely this wisdom would extend to football—at least in the eyes of a Permian fan or player.

Bissinger thus situates Gaines as a central authority figure in the book. Gaines is far from perfect—he puts an enormous amount of pressure on his players, for example. But he is still a man who tries his best to lead young men in an often-violent game. And he does so out of at least a partial conviction that what is good for Permian football is good for Odessa. 

I’d give anything to go back out there.

Related Characters: Jerry Hix, Joe Bob Bizzell, and Daniel Justis
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

This admission, on the part of older players, points to another central feature of the text: the fact that even those who have been injured by the game, or left behind when they could not transition to college or the pros, revere Permian and its football culture. The education these young men received as football players is something they carry with them. They are not spiteful, and they do not feel that football took over or ruined their lives.

Indeed, they feel quite the opposite—that their lives have been shaped for the better by a culture of winning, tradition, and physical courage instilled in them by their football coaches, and reinforced by the fans of the game. In this way, football comes to represent an entire social cod of honor and hard work that they wish to follow in their future lives, even though they can no longer play the high-school game. 

Chapter 15: The Algebraic Equation Quotes

Will Bates was drummed out of Carter and reassigned to teach industrial arts in a middle school. He was given an unsatisfactory evaluation rating, placed on probation for a year, and had his salary frozen. And, of course, he was forbidden to teach and to prevent further threats to the sanctity of football.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Will Bates
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger is perhaps most critical in this chapter of the book—critical of a competitive football culture that he believes can destroy people's lives. Will Bates has done nothing other than what he believes to be right. He has attempted to hold a football player to the same academic standard as any other student in the high school. But because football plays an outsized role in the town's self-conception—because football players are central to the total success of the school—their academic work is of little importance to most people.

Bissinger implies that the students who are supposedly "privileged" by this system when they are athletes are actually not well served once they leave school. They have been exempted from an education they deserved, in order to play a game for the delight of school administrators and fans. 

Chapter 16: Field of Dreams Quotes

The season had ended, but another one had begun. People everywhere, young and old, were already dreaming of heroes.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger here identifies what he understands to be the cyclical nature of football in Texas. Every year, new players will come up - some will have promise, and some will deliver on that promise. Some will be injured, some will become stars. But then another year will turn, and the school will have a fresh opportunity to win, to go all the way to the state title game.

Bissinger notes that, while much of this is traditional and cyclical, a great deal of it also depends on individual people's lives. A very small number of players and coaches benefit totally from the game of football. Very many more have frustrated relationships with the game and its culture, one that can cause them a lifetime of injury, or that can keep them from getting a useful high-school education. 

Epilogue Quotes

The Permian Panthers ended the decade exactly the same way they had begun it. Two days before Christmas, they became the state football champions of Texas.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 381
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger ends the book by noting that Permian, despite high turnover among the players, can win games, and can do so effectively over long periods of time. For Texas football playes, The state title remains the single most important athletic achievement a person, and a team, can earn. There is nothing more to be gained at this level. It is, as Boobie says earlier, a thing one tells one's children and grandchildren about.

But Bissinger's tone, in this epilogue, is far from uniformly positive and supportive. He is happy to know that many of these young men are happy. But he is at best ambivalent about the sacrifices they, their families, and their communities must make to support the churning machine of Permian football. And it is a machine, for better and for worse, that shows no signs of stopping.