Bissinger moves on to tell the story of Ivory Christian, an immensely talented black player, a middle linebacker, whose ability on the football field is matched by his passions off the field—and by his resentment toward football, even as he enjoys hitting people and playing the game. Indeed, Ivory has difficulty integrating different aspects of his life: his desire for physical contact, his anxiety about football games that causes him to throw up before a contest, and his interest in preaching the Gospel, which he begins to do increasingly as he moves through high school.
Ivory’s relationship to the game of football is, as Bissinger describes it, truly ambivalent. The game appeals to him as a bodily experience, as it does for others on the team—McDougal and Chavez, among others. But the violence of the sport, and its emphasis on “putting the hurt” on other players, is very much at odds with the sermons of peace Christian preaches on Sundays. Christian has understandable difficulty reconciling these seemingly opposite sets of values.
Christian begins preaching some Sundays at a church in town, and gives up on alcohol and partying, even going so far as to chastise some of his fellow players for talking dirtily or drinking on the weekend. His mentor at the church, Pastor Hanson, tells Christian that not everyone will live up to the high religious example that he sets. But Christian feels that preaching is his true calling, and that, after football season, he will devote himself more fully to the church. Christian even resolves, briefly, to quit the team midseason, although Hanson talks him out of this decision, arguing that there is space enough in Christian’s life for God and for football.
Hanson, in this case, does Christian a favor, aiding him in his quest for a college scholarship. But perhaps Hanson also encourages Christian to continue playing football because he wants Christian to succeed on the field. Bissinger does not state this directly, but nearly everyone in Odessa has some relationship to the success of Permian football, however tenuous, and Bissinger notes, in other instances, that even ambivalent supporters of the program want great players on the team, competing for the state title.
Bissinger switches to a description of Permian’s second game of the ’88 season, for which Christian prepares very seriously, against the Marshall Mavericks who are from the eastern part of the state, hundreds of miles away. Marshall is one of the top high school programs in Texas, and though the game is non-league—and therefore does not effect Permian’s standings in the state playoffs—the game does determine bragging rights between two football-mad schools. Permian charters a jet, for 20,000 dollars, to send its players east for the game, and the Panthers read up on Odell Beckham, the star running back for Marshall, whom Christian is in charge of stopping.
Apparently, Permian’s chartering of a jet to attend a non-conference game is standard for this region and time period—even though, as teachers later note, the budget for some academic programs is miniscule in comparison to that of football. In these instances, Bissinger plays up the apparent hypocrisy of school administrators who argue, on the one hand, that they must improve academics in the region, and who sign off, on the other, on enormous expenditures designed to increase the football team’s profile, at the direct expense of the educational program.
Christian covers Odell Beckham effectively throughout the game, and at the half the Panthers are in the lead, 7-3. After halftime, some of the players become sick from their physical effort in the intense heat of the day. The game stays close, then Marshall goes up, 13-12, with only one possession left for Permian. Winchell leads his team up the field, but is unable to convert near the end zone, and Permian loses the game. Marshall fans erupt in celebration, and the Panthers are devastated on the hot, dry field.
Winchell’s inability to score in crunch-time situations becomes an unfortunate refrain throughout the book. Bissinger implies that Winchell is a very talented quarterback, but that something in him balks or flinches when the chips are down—Bissinger notes that perhaps this diffidence stems from the difficulty of Winchell’s home life as a child.
Back in Odessa, some of the residents of the town begin calling more loudly for Coach Gaines’ firing, since the Panthers are 1-1: the first time they’ve had a .500 record in years. Although the game with Marshall was non-league, and therefore doesn’t effect the Panthers’ playoff chances, many in town are stunned that Permian, which is known to be especially talented this year, is struggling on the field, or at least apparently so. Bissinger briefly describes a party back in Odessa, the weekend of the Marshall loss, in which some of the football players and their friends get into a fight, perhaps out of frustration with the team’s mediocre performance so far in the season.
Bissinger notes that drinking among football players is tolerated more or less openly, as simply a part of the “boys will be boys” culture linked to football. Although Bissinger does not dwell too long on scenes of drinking and fighting among the players, he strongly implies that these events occur constantly throughout the season—and that authorities do nothing to stop them, perhaps even tacitly condone them.