"[An] inspiring story about a small town and it's unbelievable football team. Starring unforgettable characters in a setting you'll never want to leave, this is a must-read for true fans."Bustle.com
Friday Night Lights Mass Market TV Tie-inby H. G. Bissinger
Return once again to the enduring account of life in the Mojo lane, to the Permian Panthers of Odessa the winningest high school football team in Texas history. Odessa is not known to be a town big on dreams, but the Panthers help keep the hopes and dreams of this small, dusty town going. Socially and racially divided, its fragile economy follows the
Return once again to the enduring account of life in the Mojo lane, to the Permian Panthers of Odessa the winningest high school football team in Texas history. Odessa is not known to be a town big on dreams, but the Panthers help keep the hopes and dreams of this small, dusty town going. Socially and racially divided, its fragile economy follows the treacherous boom-bust path of the oil business. In bad times, the unemployment rate barrels out of control; in good times, its murder rate skyrockets. But every Friday night from September to December, when the Permian High School Panthers play football, this West Texas town becomes a place where dreams can come true. With frankness and compassion, Bissinger chronicles one of the Panthers' dramatic seasons and shows how single-minded devotion to the team shapes the community and inspires-and sometimes shatters-the teenagers who wear the Panthers' uniforms. Includes Reader's Group Guide inside. Now a an NBC TV weekly drama series.
- Da Capo Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
Friday Night Lights
By H. G. Bissinger
Da Capo PressCopyright © 2003 H. G. Bissinger
All right reserved.
In the beginning, on a dog-day Monday in the middle of August when the West Texas heat congealed in the sky, there were only the stirrings of dreams. It was the very first official day of practice and it marked the start of a new team, a new year, a new season, with a new rallying cry scribbled madly in the backs of yearbooks and on the rear windows of cars: Goin' to State in Eighty-Eight!
It was a little after six in the morning when the coaches started trickling into the Permian High School field house. The streets of Odessa were empty, with no signs of life except the perpetual glare of the convenience store lights on one corner after another. The K mart was closed, of course, and so was the Wal-Mart. But inside the field house, a squat structure behind the main school building, there was only the delicious anticipation of starting anew. On each of the coaches' desks lay caps with bills that were still stiff and sweat bands that didn't contain the hot stain of sweat, with the word PERMIAN emblazoned across the front in pearly thread. From one of the coaches came the shrill blow of a whistle, followed by the gleeful cry of "Let's go, men!" There was the smell of furniture polish; the dust and dirt of the past season were forever wiped away.
About an hour later the players arrived. It was time to get under way.
"Welcome, guys" were the words Coach Gary Gaines used to begin the 1988 season, and fifty-five boys dressed in identical gray shirts and gray shorts, sitting on identical wooden benches, stared into his eyes. They listened, or at least tried to. Winning a state championship. Making All-State and gaining a place on the Permian Wall of Fame. Going off after the season to Nebraska, or Arkansas, or Texas. Whatever they fantasized about, it all seemed possible that day.
Gaines's quiet words washed over the room, and in hundreds of other Texas towns celebrating the start of football practice that August day there were similar sounds of intimacy and welcome, to the eastern edge of the state in Marshall, to the northern edge in Wichita Falls, to the southern edge in McAllen, to the western edge in El Paso. They were Gaines's words, but they could have come from any high school coach renewing the ritual of sport, the ritual of high school football.
"There's twelve hundred boys in Permian High School. You divide that by three and there's four hundred in every class. You guys are a very special breed. There are guys back there that are every bit as good as you are. But they were not able to stick it out for whatever reason. Football's not for everybody. But you guys are special. "We want you all to carry the torch in the eighty-eight season. It's got to mean somethin' really special to you. You guys have dreamt about this for many years, to be a part of this team, some of you since you were knee-high. Work hard, guys, and pay the price. Be proud you're a part of this program. Keep up the tradition that was started many years ago."
That tradition was enshrined on a wall of the field house, where virtually every player who had made All-State during the past twenty-nine years was carefully immortalized within the dimensions of a four-by-six-inch picture frame. It was enshrined in the proclamation from the city council that hung on a bulletin board, honoring one of Permian's state championship teams. It was enshrined in the black carpet, and the black-and-white cabinets, and the black rug in the shape of a panther. It was enshrined in the county library, where the 235-page history that had been written about Permian football was more detailed than any of the histories about the town itself.
Of all the legends of Odessa, that of high school football was the most enduring. It had a deep and abiding sense of place and history, so unlike the town, where not even the origin of the name itself could be vouched for with any confidence.
There had been no reason for its original existence. It owed its beginnings to a fine blend of Yankee ingenuity and hucksterism, its selling the first primordial example of the Home Shopping Network.
It was invented in the 1880s by a group of men from Zanesville, Ohio, who saw a great opportunity to make money if only they could figure out some way to get people there, to somehow induce them into thinking that the land bore bountiful secrets, this gaping land that filled the heart with far more sorrow than it ever did encouragement, stretching without a curve except for the undulating trough off the caprock where the once-great herds of buffalo had grazed for water. What Odessa lacked, and one look informed the most charitable eye that it lacked a fantastic amount, the speculators from Ohio would make up for on the strength of their own imagination. With fourteen thousand arid acres to sell, truth in advertising was not something to dwell over.
The Zanesville syndicate looked at all the best natural qualities of the country and decided to attribute them to Odessa whether they were there or not. Through brochures and pamphlets it conjured up a place with weather as wonderful as Southern California's and soil as fertile as that of the finest acre of farmland in Kansas or Iowa.
"Splendid cities will spring up all along the railroads that traverse the plains, and immense fortunes will be made there in a few years, in land business ventures, you will see the most remarkable emigration to that section that has occurred since the days when the discovery of gold sent wealth-seekers by thousands into Colorado," Henry Thatcher boldly forecast in the Chillicothe Leader in 1886.
If that wasn't enough to make someone leave southern Ohio, Odessa was also promoted as a Utopian health spa with a $12,000 college and a public library, and a ban on alcohol. Those suffering from consumption, bronchitis, malaria, kidney, bladder, or prostate problems, asthma, or rheumatism would be welcomed with open arms, according to a promotional pamphlet.
Those who were failures, near death, didn't like working, bad with money, or cheap politicians were specifically not welcome, the same pamphlet said. The statement appeared to exclude many of the people who might have been interested in such a place.
The great Odessa land auction took place on May 19, 1886. The Zanesville boys, careful to the last drop, actually held it 350 miles to the east, in Dallas. Historical accounts of Odessa do not accurately indicate how many settlers bought lots. But about ten families, German Methodists from western Pennsylvania around Pittsburgh, hoping to realize the Utopian community so grandly talked about, did arrive.
They tried to fit in with the ranchers and cowboys who were already there, but it was not a good match. The Methodists found the ranchers and the cowboys beyond saving. The ranchers and the cowboys found that the Methodists did nothing but yell at them all the time.
As part of its commitment, the syndicate went ahead and built a college for the Methodists. It was constructed around 1889 but burned mysteriously three years later. Some said the college was set afire by cowboys who disliked being told by the Methodists that they could not drink, particularly in a place that cried out daily for alcohol. Others said it was burned by a contingent of jealous citizens from Midland because the Odessa college was competing with a similar institution that the sister city had built. Finally, there were those who said the college was burned down simply because it was something the damn Yankees had built the natives of the city when no one had asked for it. Given the later attitudes of Odessa, all these theories are probably true. A hospital was also built, but most settlers ignored it and instead relied on such tried-and-true home remedies as cactus juice and a wrap of cabbage leaves for the chills, a plaster made out of fresh cow manure for sprains, and buzzard grease for measles.
Contrary to all the boasts of the land's fertility, it was virtually impossible to farm anything because of the difficulty of getting water. Instead, Odessa eked out a living from the livestock trade, all dreams of Utopia gone forever when the town's first sheriff, Elias Dawson, decided that the ban on alcohol constituted cruel and unusual punishment and became the proprietor, along with his brother, of the town's first saloon.
The first murder in Odessa occurred late in the nineteenth century when a cowboy rode into a water-drilling camp one afternoon and demanded something to eat from the cook. The cook, described as a "chinaman," refused, so the cowboy promptly shot him. He was taken to San Angelo and put on trial, but the judge freed him on the grounds that there were no laws on the books making it illegal to kill a Chinaman.
For more casual entertainment, a couple of cowboys gathered up all the cats they could find one day, tied sacks of dried beans to their tails, and then set them loose downtown to scare the daylights out of the horses and the citizens milling about. In later times it was hard not to get caught up in the frivolity of those great practical jokers, the Wilson brothers, whose professional standing as doctors didn't mean they were above grabbing unsuspecting townsfolk into the barbershop and shaving their heads.
By 1900, Odessa had only 381 residents. By 1910 the population had increased to 1,178. Most of those inhabitants depended on ranching, but various droughts made survival almost impossible because of the lack of grazing land for cattle. The ranchers became so poor they could not afford to buy feed, and many cattle were just rounded up and shot to death so the stronger ones could have what little grass was left.
Nothing about living in Odessa was easy. Finding a scrubby tree that could barely serve as a Christmas tree took two days. Even dealings with cattle rustlers and horse thieves had to be compromised; they were shot instead of hanged because there weren't any trees tall enough from which to let them swing.
A flu epidemic hit in 1919, filling up the only funeral home in town, which was part of the hardware store. It so severely overran the town that there weren't enough men well enough to dig the graves of those who had died. Medical care was at best a kind of potluck affair. The one doctor who settled in Odessa during this period, Emmet V. Headlee, used the dining room of his home as an operating room. He performed the operations while his wife administered the anesthetic.
By 1920 the population had dropped back down to 760, and it was hard to believe that Odessa would survive. But ironically, the Zanesville elite was right in its fanciful prediction that Odessa was bubbling with a bounty of riches.
Unknown to anyone when it was founded, the town was sitting in the midst of the Permian Basin, a geologic formation so lush it would ultimately produce roughly 20 percent of the nation's oil and gas. With major oil discoveries in West Texas in the early and mid-twenties, the boom was on, and Odessa was only too eager to embrace the characteristics that distinguished other Texas boom towns of the period: wild overcrowding, lawlessness, prostitution, chronic diarrhea, bad water, streets that were so deep in mud that teams of oxen had to be called in to pull the oil field machinery, and a rat problem so severe that the local theater put out a rat bounty and would let you in free if you produced twelve rat tails.
Odessa established itself as a distribution point for oil field equipment and experienced more growth in a month than it had in ten years, inundated by men who were called simply boomers. They came into town once a week, their skin scummy and stinking and blackened from oil and caked-on dirt, to get a bath and a shave at the barbershop. Young children ogled at them when they appeared because it was unimaginable, even by the standards of children, to find anyone as dirty as these men were.
From 1926 on, Odessa became forever enmeshed in the cycles of the boom-and-bust oil town. It made for a unique kind of schizophrenia, the highs of the boom years like a drug-induced euphoria followed by the lows of the bust and the realization that everything you had made during the boom had just been lost, followed again by the euphoria of boom years, followed again by the depression of another bust, followed by another boom and yet another bust, followed by a special prayer to the Lord, which eventually showed up on bumper stickers of pickups in the eighties, for one more boom with a vow "not to piss this one away."
There was a small nucleus of people who settled here and worked here and cared about the future of the town, who thought about convention centers and pleasant downtown shopping and all the other traditional American mainstays. But basically it became a transient town, a place to come to and make money when the boom was on and then get as far away from as possible with the inevitable setting in of the bust. If a man or woman wasn't making money, there wasn't much reason to stay.
Hub Heap, who came out here in 1939 and later started a successful oil field supply company, remembered well the single event that embodied his early days in Odessa. It was a torrent of sand, looking like a rain cloud, that came in from the northwest and turned the place so dark in the afternoon light that the street lamps suddenly started glowing. Nothing escaped the hideousness of that sand. It crept in everywhere, underneath the rafters, inside the walls, like an endless army of tiny ants, covering him, suffocating him, pushing down into his lungs, blinding his eyes, and that night he had no choice but to sleep with a wet towel over his face just so he could breathe.
Odessa also became tough and quick-fisted, filled with men who hardly needed a high school diploma, much less a college one, to become roughnecks and tool pushers on an oil rig. They spent a lot of time in trucks traveling to remote corners of the earth to put in a string of drill pipe, and when they went home to Odessa to unwind they did not believe in leisurely drinking or witty repartee. More often than not, they did not believe in conversation, their dispositions reflecting the rough, atonal quality of the land, which after the droughts consisted mostly of the gnarled limbs of low-lying mesquite bushes. Outside of the oil business, the weather (which almost never changed), and high school football, there wasn't a hell of a lot to talk about.
J. D. Cone, when he came here from Oklahoma in 1948 to become a family practitioner, went on house calls with a thirty-eight pistol stuck into his belt after the sheriff told him it was always a good idea to be armed in case someone got a little ornery or disagreed with the diagnosis. Right after he arrived, he went with a friend to the notorious Ace of Clubs.
Excerpted from Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger Copyright © 2003 by H. G. Bissinger. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
H.G. Bissinger has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Livingston Award, the National Headliner Award, and the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel for his reporting. The author of the highly acclaimed A Prayer for the City, he has written for the television series NYPD Blue and is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He lives in Philadelphia.
- Date of Birth:
- November 1, 1954
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; Nieman Fellow, Harvard University, 1985-1986
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
The book I am reading is Friday Night Lights by Hg Bissenger. What I thought about this book was it was really good because I like football. Some information about the book that you need to know is all it talks about is football. This book is really good book to read. I would recommend this book to who ever likes football and who ever likes to read. The main character is coach Garry Gains because he is the coach of the best football team in the state of Texas. So read this book soon you will love it.
this book is a once in a lifetime expirence that you can read over and over again. with every word, every letter, and chapter you would read, you can put yourself in the action of the story. the detail and decription friday night lights has will put you in the middle with all the rest of the team. if your a football fan, but not nuch of a reader, this is the book you should start with. for any person for that matter. football contains alot of letters.such as the qb, h, y,x,z,tr,k,p,and rb. the one letter this book deserves it an A.
I think that this book is very inspiring that any one that is interested into sports than this is the book for you. It gives lots and lots of information towards their lives. The book it gives information about the person's life. If you are a person that loves to hear about others lives than this is the book for you. I am the kind of person that loves the information about what they are doing and saying. This book gives me everything I need to know about that. I love this book because well I would say that I am the kind that is in love with sports books.If you think that I am just trying to boost the ratings. Well I would to tell you this but I am not.I am just giving information that I thought was great.
I recommend this book to sports fans only because if you are not you should become one. Then if you still aren't then I do not know what to tell you.I am not trying to offend anyone, I am just trying to put my point through to people all over the world.This book it has everything a football person would want. It is one of the greatest books I have ever read. It gives sports and it just might offend a few people when they read it. So I do not recommend this to everyone if you that kind of person that gets offended easily and you really want to read get ready for a heck of a ride.
The book Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissenger is overall a good book. It is about a big town football team in the state of Texas. The author actually traveled to this town to stay with this team and a few select players to see what a high school athlete¿s life is really like. He gives you a good look into some of the players¿ lives such as Mike Winchell, Ivory Christian, and Booby Miles. What makes this book so great is not the stories about the games or the events on the field, but it is the events off the field. It is what these young men do when they aren¿t playing football. But it isn¿t just another high school drama, like you would see on MTV, it is real life. You see the kids grow up and mature as they play on a team that will be remembered forever. You also get the feel of what it is really like to be on a team, because anyone who has ever played football before knows that it isn¿t really how many wins you get in the year, or if you win it all, it is really about the friendships you gain and the lessons you learn. This is the only football book I have ever read that really gives you the feel of a high school football game and shows you how much it really means to the kids who play in it. I decided to read this book because I myself am a high school football player. I picked it up after watching the movie and it is totally different. I loved the movie but the book is even better. And if you liked the movie you should definitely pick up this book. And when you do, don¿t expect the same story because it is all different. Even some of the characters are different. This is a great book and I would recommend it to anyone who loves the sport.
H.G. Bissenger¿s book Friday Night Lights is a non-fiction account of a football team in Odessa, Texas spanning the decade of the 1980s. A once financially successful town dependent on oil revenues, Odessa's fate makes an about turn as profits dwindle, families face bankruptcy, and the crime rate climbs, far exceeding the national average. Enter the Permain Panthers football team, a group that seems to be defying all odds, proving that determination and grit can bring hope and success to this small town. It goes without saying that just as surely the team can also bring the town to its knees if it fails to win the State Championship.
At an early age, children are indoctrinated into the faith known as the Permian High School Panthers Football Team, a religion that is followed just as fervently as any other. Boys pray that they will rise to the challenge and become the next star of the Pantheon Panthers, while girls dream of becoming a ¿Pipette,¿ a glorified indentured servant whose sole obligation is to meet the needs of an adoring, or as the case may sometimes be, un-adoring, football player. When they shine, the players are treated much like Greek gods, but like those gods, their reign is brief, landing some in their own version of Hades.
Bissenger follows several players, and their coach, as they travel on a journey to the State Finals. Along the way, the star player, Boobie, sustains a knee injury and learns the hard way that not only is he expendable, but that all privileges once extended to him are no longer afforded. This is made abundantly clear when the once promising star realizes that he is now actually required to attend class to receive a passing grade. While some players do show academic promise, most are unprepared for the rigors ahead of them in the real world. These players live in an eery twilight zone, reinforced by adults obsessed with winning the next Friday night's game. Along with portraits of the players, Bissenger offers a sympathetic portrayal of the coach who tries to create a winning team against the backdrop of adolescent angst, and families struggling to stay intact against a rising tide of economic and emotional woes.
Bissenger doesn't focus his reporting solely within the boundaries of the football field, he also examines how football dominance intersects all other aspects of town governance. Bissenger explains how Permian High School, once the bastion of white middle and upper-middle-class families, gerrymanders town lines so that it can pick and choose its star athletes from less privileged areas. He also reports on how funding is disproportionately spent on the football team; making scholastic achievement a secondary function of the school system. Bissenger takes us to a court proceeding where a judge is asked to rule on whether a star athlete with a questionable passing grade in algebra is qualified to play in the next game. By the time you reach this point in the book, you will fully understand that in Odessa, a town where winning a game is everything, judgment will always favor the athlete. Whether the Panthers succeed in becoming champions or not, in the end, the season is over, the old players move on, and new players replace the old, and for a brief moment, they too are stars.
Quill says: A tale of the American Dream gone awry. A fantastic book.
I know that there are many people that love this book dearly, and that my opinion is in the minority, so this review may get readers blood boiling, but for me this book was very disappointing. Now, I didn't care much for high school sports when I was in high school, so this was not a subject that I was really interested in reading about. I'm a huge sports fan, but that applies to the college and pro level and high school sports should fall under an extracurricular activity, and when they are raised to the level of pro or college sports, I find it to be an example of misplaced priorities. I never would have bought this book on my own, but my cousin gave me this book last Christmas and it was the last book left I had to read to finish out my reading year, so I picked it up and delved in. My problem with the book, is that it was too easy a read for me, very unchallenging and three or four levels beneath the subject matter that I am used to reading. When something is to easy to read it, bores me, and that is what this book did. Bissinger's novel works best when it turns into a sociological examination of Odessa, Texas, and the tragic results that come when people put the state championship of high school football in Texas above the education and long term life needs of the student/athletes who are put through the meat grinder that is high school football in Texas. The one point that the book illuminates is that communities that have an unhealthy obsession with a sport or one of their sports teams' Texas with high school football, Boston with baseball and the Red Sox, North Carolina with college basketball'are often masking a deep unhappiness with the area in which they live. The lack of opportunities whether it be in life, work, or upward mobility, coupled with high crime, poverty, and population flight cause those communities to put all of their hopes, dreams and life wishes onto the shoulders of the teams they root for, which causes an out of control fandom that loses perspective on the fact that it is just a game. We all want our teams to win, but when you have a full life, the individual tends to not be so devasted when their teams lose. I do understand why those who played high school football love this book because it speaks to their own experiences, but when Bissinger writes that many students learned about American History by watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on video, and that many students could not think about anything, make critical judgements and deliberations, or interpret what they had just read, I shook my head at the troubling condemnation of the American educational system being sabatoged.
This is a great football book. Me playing football, i get where the book is coming from. If you don't know a lot about football, you might not get everything in it.
This is an amazing book about the greatness of a football team in the town of Odessa, in western Texas. Western Texas is all about football. In the book they would close down the whole town for a Permian High varsity football game. You feel like you¿re at the game both when the team does good and bad. I loved the in your face football action and the support from the entire town. This varsity football team is what held this town together. For a non-fiction book it seems almost surreal how an entire town would shut down just for a varsity football game, but that is exactly what would happen. Come Friday night there wasn¿t a soul that lives in Odessa that wasn¿t in that stadium, cheering on their team. This book is great for anyone who doesn¿t understand the importance of high school football in Texas. Not only is it a terrific book on football, but also it has a lot of non-football related themes. One of the biggest themes in this book is racism, not only from the town, but also from the team. Racism was portrayed in many different ways, but the main was name-calling. Being a football player myself it was hard to find any dislikes about this book. I loved every part of it. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever played football, plays football, or just enjoys football.
Friday Nights Lights is a very well written book about Texas football and the history behind Texas football programs especially in Permian High School. This book gave a lot of history about the town and the high school and what has happened to come to this point. I find it amazing that in some towns it is not uncommon to close down the whole town to watch the varsity football game. Some of the reading kind of confused me because in one chapter the author would be in the middle of a football game and then in the next chapter he would be talking about the history of Texas. A major theme that always came up in this book was racism. Especially out of the football program, if someone were to describe a person they might have used the term ¿nigger lady¿. A high school football player should read this book because it would show them how hard other teams have to work and would inspire them to work even harder for there team. Also this is a great book for anyone to read that doesn¿t understand the importance of high school football in Texas.