W hen football season ended and there was nothing much to do on Friday nights except drink beer and stare up at the wide-open sky, teenagers used to park their pickups across the street from Odessa High School and wait to see the ghost they called Betty. According to legend, she would appear at the windows of the school auditorium at midnight—provided that students flashed their headlights three times or honked their horn and called out her name. But the facts of her death had been muddled with time, and each story was as apocryphal as the last: She had fallen off a ladder in the auditorium and broken her neck, students said. She had hanged herself in the theater. Her boyfriend, who was a varsity football player, had shot her onstage during a play. So many teenagers made the late-night pilgrimage to see Betty that the high school deemed it prudent to paint over the windows of the school auditorium.
It was H. As ferocious and as disciplined as the Panthers were on the field, they could not defend against Friday Night Lights. It did not shy away from revealing the rough edges of a community that was football crazy.
Bissinger, who lived in Odessa for a year while he worked on the book, continues to see its virtues.
He attributed them to racism, but that never existed in this field house. Gaines never read it at all.
Almost a decade later, the charges still sting. When I visited Odessa in August, with two-a-days in full swing, people were eager to talk to me when I told them I was working on a story about high school football. But when I mentioned those three words— Friday Night Lights —in almost every instance their faces stiffened, and I was met with more than one extended pause, as though I had asked about an uncle who was serving time in the state pen. What about the players who lived it?
Many appear on the following s, and they tell stories similar to those of any high school graduates. Some have finished college and done well.
Others have struggled. A few have found the American dream: a wife and family, a nice house, a steady job. And what of Permian High itself?
As the class of begins its senior year, little has changed. Football remains sacred, young boys dream of wearing the black and white, and on the turf of Ratliff Stadium heroes are still crowned beneath the Friday night lights. Brian Chavez In the now iconic photo on the cover of Friday Night Lights, Chavez, 85, is the man in the middle.
But everything else he did at Permian put him on top: He was team captain and started as both a tight end and defensive end, and he was the salutatorian of his class.
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Since then: He dreamed of being accepted to Harvard—and he was. After graduating with honors in with a B. Now: He is a criminal defense attorney at the Odessa law firm started by his father, Tony. The ball was thrown perfectly, and if I had caught it, I would have scored the winning touchdown.
But at the last second, Jesse Armstead came out of nowhere and touched the ball just enough to knock it away.
As for how it described playing at Permian, Buzz hit it right on the nose. Chad and Tracy Payne They were high school sweethearts who started dating the summer before their senior year.
He was a starting linebacker; she never missed a game. Since then: They married in June and chose to remain in Odessa, where she studied ing at Odessa College and he supported them by working for his dad at Seacoast Machine. They have two daughters: Britni, who is eight, and Micailie, who is six.
And they still have season tickets to Panther games.
You know how those bad memories stick in your mind. Marshall was, and that was another close game we lost.
People put too much trust in him. Fans responded by planting For Sale s in his yard. Since then: In Gaines became an assistant at Texas Tech. He returned to the high school game inwhen he took over at Abilene High.
I drove to a truck stop in the middle of the night, met the other coaches, and we each flipped a coin to see who was out. As I recall, my coin ended up on the other side of the room. Man, was I glad that it came up our way. But a career-ending injury in a meaningless preseason game wrecked those dreams.
In frustration, he would quit the team with just one game left in the regular season.
He and his wife, Shalay, have two children: Jatashia, who is three, and Joe Angel, who is two. They are expecting twins in December. I just wanted to play football, go to Nebraska, and make the NFL. Now I regret the whole thing. Don Billingsley After growing up in Oklahoma with his mother, Billingsley moved to Odessa to live with his father after his freshman year in high school.
He did it, he says, so he could play football for Permian. He wanted to be a Panther tailback, just as his dad had been in the sixties.
Now: In April he married his girlfriend, Melanie Fannin, and they moved to Dallas, where he works as a mental health counselor. All the work that went into that season, all of those hours spent at the field house, and going to the playoffs came down to that. We were tense, nervous, and quiet: You could hear a pin drop. And when we found out, everybody just went nuts.
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For him to just focus on five or six guys, and for him to choose me, I feel really fortunate. Jerrod McDougal A bruising, undersized offensive tackle, McDougal played with more heart than anyone. And, as a famous picture from the book shows, no one took the loss to Midland Lee more personally. Now: This spring he moved to Bandera to work at Roger Stevens, a soil conservation company his father recently acquired.
He takes night classes when he can, and one day he hopes to become a coach. Ball dryers! We never had to have ball dryers; it never rains in Odessa. As flattering as it was, he was a distraction.
I cried the whole way through it.