Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights Chapter 13: Heads or Tails Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In a short chapter, Bissinger describes the end of the Panthers’ regular season. Permian beats San Angelo to achieve a 7-2 record, finishing in a threeway tie in their division with Midland Lee and Midland High. Only two of the teams can go to the state playoffs. The tiebreaker provision in Texas high school football calls for a decision by coin toss, to be held the night after the final games of the season. After Permian defeats San Angelo, Bissinger rides with Coach Gaines and Assistant Coach Belew to a small gas station diner in the middle of the empty country near Midland—an “undisclosed” location for the toss, with the coaches of Midland Lee and Midland High. But news vans are alerted to the toss’s location, and show up to broadcast the toss live, at midnight the last Friday of the season.
Although it is perhaps hard to believe, there is no official tiebreaker—for example, points against, or records over mutual foes. Instead, the teams must submit themselves to total chance, a coin flip. Here, Bissinger implies that, once again, there is an element of gambling, and inherent unfairness or irrationality, in West Texas’ obsession with football.
Themes
Football Theme Icon
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
On the ride to the toss, Gaines and Belew talk about their youth and about football in almost romantic terms. But this comes to an end when they reach the toss, and when Gaines realizes that the whole season, and his job, will come down to an event over which he has no control. A referee tells the three head coaches the rules: simple odd-man-out, so whoever throws something different from the other two coaches will see his team out of the playoffs. Gaines and the Midland Lee coach each throw heads, and Midland High’s coach throws tails. At Midland Lee and Permian, the players watching live on TV celebrate wildly, knowing they are off to the playoffs. The Midland High players, as Bissinger remarks, understand that “segment of their lives is now over forever.” Gaines remarks aloud that the toss seems an especially cruel way to determine a team’s fate.
What is perhaps most unfair, here, is not that the coach might be kept from the playoffs, but that the players on Midland High—those who have sacrificed their fall, and much of their young lives, for the dream of a trip to “state”—will have to live with the fact that a coin flip kept them out of the playoffs. Bissinger here wonders, most directly, whether all this football, all this competition, is useful or productive for young men, who have been taught to neglect everything else, including their studies, for a dream that can evaporate quickly, and leave nothing but sadness behind. Note also that Gaines likely keeps his job because of the outcome of that coin flip.
Themes
Football Theme Icon
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
Bissinger describes Boobie’s remainder of the season. After the last regular-season game, Boobie officially quits the team—he says he wants to be able to rehab his knee fully, and get surgery to repair a part of the ligament. But others on the team, who believe Boobie is a quitter, assert that Boobie has left because he is no longer the star. Many of the white assistant coaches compare Boobie to a “lame horse,” who needs to be “shot” because he can no longer perform. The stress of leaving the team causes Boobie to fight with his uncle LV, and to leave the house to go off and live elsewhere in Odessa. LV is upset at how things have transpired with his nephew and adopted son, but he still believes that Boobie can heal his knee and make a career for himself in college football.
A scene of shocking heartlessness, on the part of some of the Permian Panthers’ coaches. Here, they treat Boobie in explicitly racist terms, arguing that he is no better than an animal, and that, like an animal, he should be “shot” when he can no longer “perform” on the field. Although one might argue that the coaches would talk of any player, white or black, this way, that seems less than likely, and even so, the idea that players are merely beasts who perform on the field flies in the face of the educational mission of a high school—which is, of course, designed to instruct, to make citizens of its students. Meanwhile, football was supposed to be a way out of poverty for Boobie, a springboard to success. But while the team got lucky in its coin toss, Boobie got similarly unlucky in his injury. The town treats football as a game of pure will and skill, but Bissinger shows how both the team and its individual players are subject also to the whims of chance.
Themes
Football Theme Icon
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