The author of Friday Night Lights, Bissinger is present in the text as he interviews players, coaches, and fans, and describes what life is like in Odessa, Texas. Bissinger maintains an objective stance throughout… read analysis of Buzz Bissinger
Coach of the Permian Panthers, Gary Gaines is tagged by some in the community as “too soft” to lead his team to the ultimate goal—a state championship. Although Permian loses to Carter in the state… read analysis of Gary Gaines
A talented African American running back on the Permian squad with dreams of playing Division I college football, Boobie injures his knee in a preseason scrimmage and must sit out much of the season. When… read analysis of Boobie Miles
Permian’s quarterback, Mike Winchell is a talented passer with a love for the game. But Winchell, whose father died when he was a young boy, is often beset by worry when he is on the… read analysis of Mike Winchell
A gifted middle linebacker, Ivory Christian is “ambivalent,” as Bissinger describes it, about football, and wants, after high school, to become a Christian preacher at a local church in the African American Southside of Odessa… read analysis of Ivory Christian
The valedictorian of his class, Brian Chavez is also a strong and methodical defensive end for Permian. Chavez, unlike many of the other players, has clear plans after high school: he wants to go to… read analysis of Brian Chavez
A running back for Permian, and a “rabble-rouser” who drinks and fights on the weekends, Don Billingsley is known as one of the most attractive boys at Permian High, and his attentions are sought after… read analysis of Don Billingsley
Don Billingsley’s father, Charlie, too, was a running back for Permian, arguably more talented than Don—but Charlie shares Don’s propensity for drinking, womanizing, and fighting. By the end of the football season, Charlie has… read analysis of Charlie Billingsley
Boobie Miles’ uncle, LV, dreamed of being a football player as a young man, but could not because his segregated high school did not have a team. LV, by his own admission, invests a… read analysis of LV
A prominent black preacher in Odessa, who spoke out in the 1980s against segregation in Ector County schools, Laurence Hurd is convicted of burglary and sentenced to prison, tarnishing his reputation (and similarly to that… read analysis of Laurence Hurd
A businessman interviewed by Buzz Bissinger about his role in the boom and bust of the 1980s, Aaron Giebel talks about the enormous wealth he accumulated during the oil boom, in oil prospecting. Giebel ended… read analysis of Aaron Giebel
A high school football player at Carter, and very gifted both on offense and defense, Gary Edwards became famous in the state for his Algebra II grade, which was determined, eventually, by a state supreme… read analysis of Gary Edwards
Gary Edwards’ algebra teacher, Bates initially awards Edwards a failing grade, which causes the chain of court rulings resulting in that grade being lifted to above a 70. Bates, for his part, is “moved” to… read analysis of Will Bates
A junior running back, Chris Comer has a breakout season after Boobie Miles’ injury, taking the starting job from him and from Don Billingsley, another senior.
An African American assistant coach at Permian—one of the very few—Hearne convinces Boobie to stay on the team early in the season, after Comer has taken Boobie’s job in the starting lineup.
The Panthers’ athletic trainer, Trapper believes that Boobie puts himself before the team, and that, after his injury, Boobie refuses to play through the pain of his knee injury.
An assistant coach for the Panthers, Belew accompanies Coach Gaines on their trip to the coin flip against the two Midland High Schools.
A former Permian star during the 1987 season That year, Shawn Crow leads Permian to the state semis, playing through pain. After that season he was hobbled by a herniated disc, which causes him to miss the first season of his college career.
Mike Winchell’s father, who dies of injuries sustained during a work accident when Mike is a boy. Billy Winchell encourages his son to play football, and to do in dedicated fashion, without complaint.
A secretary at a local oil company, Lanita Atkins is a prominent liberal spokesperson on white-black issues, and activist in Odessa, a town not known for its liberal political views. Bissinger interviews Lanita to hear her views regarding football in West Texas, and its impact on local communities.
Willie Hammond, Jr.
The first black city council member in Odessa, Willie Hammond, Jr., is later convicted of arson for a complicated plot to burn down a building in town, one he and others wished to redevelop.
A pastor at Ivory Christian’s church in Odessa, Pastor Hanson encourages Ivory to preach while playing football, but cautions him against giving up the game entirely, since Christian is so talented.
An extremely talented running back for the Marshall High football team, Odell Beckham is one of the primary reasons Marshall defeats Permian early in the season, prompting some in Odessa to call for Coach Gaines’ firing.
The superintendent of Ector County, in which Odessa is located, Hugh Hayes worries that football, though important, has been given too much attention in the local schools, to the detriment of their educational performance.
An English teacher at Permian High, LaRue Moore, like Hugh Hayes, worries that perhaps football has warped the school’s academic mission, tilting everything toward performance on the field, rather than in the classroom.
The father of Brian Chavez, Tony Chavez worked his way through university and law school to become a prominent Latino lawyer in the east side of Odessa, Permian’s home base and a community dominated by white middle-class families.
The former coach of Permian, winner of a state championship in 1980, John Wilkins is the Ector County athletic director, and is known as “Darth Vader” for the grimness of his demeanor during athletic contests.
Another star player for Carter, Derric Evans dominates Permian on offense and defense. Evans and Edwards, who both receive D-1 football scholarships, are arrested and sentenced to significant jail time for their role in armed robberies in the spring of 1989, destroying their college careers before they begin.
Jerry Hix, Joe Bob Bizzell, and Daniel Justis
Three former Permian players, whom Bissinger interviews during the state semis. Jerry Hix, Joe Bob Bizzell, and Daniel Justis talk longingly about their time on the field for the Panthers, even as they admit that football has ravaged their bodies, and left them with life-long injuries.
The daughter of Gary Gaines and Sharon Gaines.