For the fourth game of the season, Permian is set to play Odessa High, their crosstown rivals. Permian students hail largely from the east part of Odessa, and Odessa High students from the west. Odessa has a large Latino population, because Latinos tend to live in West Odessa. Odessa High’s football tradition, though once proud, is now a shadow of its former self. Odessa has not beaten Permian in 23 years, and before the game, Coach Gaines urges the Panthers to crush Odessa, to run up the score, and to ensure that the streak continues for another year.
Coach Gaines, normally rather reserved even in pregame speeches, here lets loose, arguing perhaps for his own job—for he knows that, if Permian cannot defeat Odessa High, Gaines might very well be run out of town. Permian’s dominance over Odessa is one of the bedrocks of the football community, and if Gaines were to be coach when that balance was upset, there is no telling how much it might anger the fan-base. It's also important to remember, however, that Permian is the “powerful” white school, while Odessa is a less powerful school made up of primarily minorities. While unstated, it is certainly arguable that it is not just Permian’s football tradition that the Permian community sees as being at stake here, but also the traditional power and dominance of the white community in Odessa.
Bissinger traces the football history of Odessa High, which, back in 1946, before Permian opened, was itself a powerhouse. That year, Odessa High won the state title, and though it never won again, many in the region still recall that Odessa High Bronchos squad. Over the years, affluent white families began moving to the east side of town, and in 1959, Permian High opened, attracting more of the same families and assuming the football tradition Odessa High once owned. In the meantime, Odessa began attracting more and more Latino families, which, as Bissinger explains, were not quite as football-mad as white families on the Permian side of town.
As Bissinger notes, Permian’s dominance in the region has not been permanent—even though, on Friday nights, it seems that way. Odessa used to carry the mantle of football throughout West Texas, and clearly, some Odessa fans hold onto the idea that, one day, the program can again rise to prominence. Bissinger seems to link this desire for a resurgence to a desire, throughout West Texas, that the oil economy, too, might recover—it is the eternal optimism necessary to guarantee that people can keep living through the difficult years.
The Odessa-Permian rivalry remains a serious one, with some businesses unwilling to choose between them (bedecking themselves in both red and black, to show impartiality). But Permian continues to dominate on the field. As Bissinger returns to the 1988 game, he describes the Panthers’ steady progress up the field, as they dismantle Odessa over the course of four quarters, winning in an enormous blowout. Sitting with Odessa fans in the stands that night, Bissinger watches as their hope turns to bitter disappointment for another year. Although the fans are not surprised that their Bronchos have not managed to win, they never give up hope entirely, and some resolve that, perhaps, next year, things will be different, and Odessa will pull out a victory over Permian.
Permian does its job, winning over Odessa High in such convincing fashion, it seems impossible that that team could ever beat the powerhouse of the Panthers. But Odessa fans refuse to abandon there squad, and Bissinger seems to find in this a kind of comfort—a belief that, even in a world where money comes and goes, and where the oil industry booms and busts, there is something stable about the orientation of people’s lives in West Texas, at least as far as football goes.