Bissinger follows the Panthers through a difficult season. At first, it appears that the talented Permian team will underperform, especially after Permian loses to its rival Midland Lee. But Permian rights the ship and ends up in a three-way tie for a berth in the district playoffs. Coach Gaines participates in a coin flip that sends the Panthers and Midland Lee to the playoffs, and leaves the Midland High team out. The Panthers make it all the way to the state semifinals, before ultimately losing in a close contest to Carter High School, a largely African-American school near Dallas. The game is a rancorous one, with tensions flaring between white and black communities represented in the stands. Bissinger notes that Gaines wants to win—sometimes desperately—but that others in Odessa feel Gaines does not try hard enough, or does not demand enough from his players.
For many on the Permian Panthers team and community, there is nothing more important than winning, and in the community at large, thousands share this sentiment. Anything less than a state championship is not good enough. But Bissinger broadens the conversation of winning and losing beyond the football field. His book discusses the lives of the players, coaches, and fans, and asks whether the binary of winning vs. losing is enough to encapsulate an entire life—one that is not a game, but a set of decisions and circumstances that often don’t have the clarity of a football matchup. Bissinger wonders whether it’s valuable or helpful for high-school students to conceive of this small period of time as determinant of the rest of their lives—especially since another crop of students will fill in the following year, and do exactly the same.
Bissinger also questions whether the community is right to put so much pressure on the winning record of a bunch of 17- and 18-year-old young men. Bissinger implies that many in the town are living through the football team because other circumstances—economic, familial—outside football are so difficult in West Texas. For Bissinger, the dependence in Odessa on the high-school team is a mixed blessing—a sign of community togetherness that actually warps the community, changes priorities, and perhaps causes as much harm as good. Bissinger concludes the book ambiguously: thankful for his time in Texas, and his experience in a world unfamiliar to him—but wondering, too, whether all the hoopla, all the money and time, and all the physical and mental anguish is worth it for the players, coaches, and fans. Bissinger, after all, recognizes what some in the book do, and others refuse to: that football is only a game, but that its impact in the community is far greater, perhaps, than any game ought to have. Bissinger believes that those who are able to view football for what it really is are better able to cope with the triumphs and difficulties, the “winning” and “losing,” of a life that extends beyond the hash-marks of a football field.
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life ThemeTracker
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Quotes in Friday Night Lights
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.
Boobie stood in the corner of the darkened room with his arms folded . . . ‘I quit, coach, they got a good season goin’.’
There were a few who found its conservatism maddening and dangerous and many more who found it the essence of what America should be, an America built on strength and the spirit of individualism, not an America built on handouts and food stamps.
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.
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 . . . .
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.
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 . . . .
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.
I’ve spilt more whiskey than most people have drunk . . . I wouldn’t have married a couple of girls I married . . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Tony was Brian’s age, the thought of college, any college, was as funny as it was ridiculous. Just getting through high school was miracle enough, and the way Tony and most other kids from South El Paso looked at it, everything after that in life was gravy, a gift.
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.
There is no question the banks were tantamount to prostitutes during the boom.
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 . . . .
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? . . . .
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.
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.
I’d give anything to go back out there.
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.
The season had ended, but another one had begun. People everywhere, young and old, were already dreaming of heroes.
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.