Friday Night Lights
is the story of a single season of high-school football in the small town of Odessa, Texas, where the faithful live and die by the success or failure of the Permian Panthers football team. If you've seen the movie Varsity Blues
, you've seen a fictionalized and, at times, exaggerated account of how high-school football can be in a small town.
But the scary part is--fiction isn't too far removed from reality. (For one thing, there are no whipped cream bikinis in this one!)
This is the story of the 1988 season for the Permian Panthers. The team was loaded with talent and expectations were high. For many of the faithful fans, anything less than a state championship would be considered a failure. Author H.G. Bassinger tells of the highs and the lows and all the places in between in the rollercoaster ride that is a football season. He tells of the absolute worship given by the town to their football players and how they're given an almost mythical status both in school and out of school. Bassinger spent a year with the team and gets inside the stories of some of the key players on the team--from coach Gary Gaines to quarterback Mike Winchell to promising but injured running back Boobie Miles. We meet their families and look inside the hopes and dreams of a team and a town.
And while this book is a celebration of small town football, it doesn't pull any punches. The book examines the profound affect that football has on the team both on and off the field. At one point, the team loses an important district rival for the fourth time in as many years and the town turns on Gaines. We see the profound impact on the coach and his family. Also, Bassinger asks a lot of hard-hitting questions that have few good answers-such as do the players get a "free pass" in the classroom so they can do well on the field. Is the town sacrificing the future of these children to have the glory of the present in a state championship?
Also, the book examines the kind of cult of celebrity that is built up around the players. Each week, the players are heralded in a pep rally, they have a cheerleader assigned to them to make signs for them, to cheer for them, make homemade cookies, etc. In some ways, the duties of being a pepette become almost, if not more, important as work in the classroom. Also rather intriguing is the view of how the girls should not be smarter to or superior to the boys in any way. (One particularily disturing scene comes last in the book, describing a young woman for rival school, Carter, who is so desparate to win the approval of the team, she sleeps with three players in one afternoon, takes Polaroids and shares them around school proudly).
But before you think it's just an isolated case, Bassinger pulls in the story of the Carter Cowboys and the lengths taken by some within the school to insure their star player gets to play in the playoffs.
This book is absoulutely essential reading for any football fan. If you love football on any level, you'll come away with a new respect and admiration for those who play the game week in and week out, at any level. But beyond that, this is the story of a town, coming together and sharing a dream. It's an indictment of fans who want winning above all else and will quickly turn on their heroes if they don't deliver. It's a fascinating, page-turning story that has a little bit of everything. I can see why this story has been turned into a movie
and it's one that I am intrigued to see. But I have a feeling I'll come out of the theater thinking--that wasn't nearly as good as the book.
If you're interested, you can view the trailer for the movie here
posted by Michael Hickerson at 10/05/2004 10:29:00 AM