So unthinkable, so catastrophic was the loss that it sent Odessa into a tailspin. Coach Gaines was distraught—a year's worth of work possibly wasted, the chorus against him growing. He was a very nice man, people said, but he wasn't a very good coach when it counted. He stayed in his office long past midnight, wondering why the 18-hour days he had spent preparing for the Rebels had not paid off. For a team with Permian's talent to miss the playoffs seemed impossible, but now, with a 7-2 record, it might happen. And if it did, Gaines had to wonder, would he have the job next year?
When he went home, several FOR SALE signs had been punched into his lawn, a not-so-subtle hint that he get the hell out of town. He took the signs and dumped them in the garage along with the others he had already collected.
The following week a petition to have Gaines fired went around the Kettle restaurant on Andrews Highway. When Bobby Boyles, a devout Permian booster, was asked to sign it, his reply was succinct: "Go to hell.
"Lose two games by two points and they're ready to hang 'im," said Boyles angrily. "What it is, they're spoiled. They've won too damn many. They need about five years of losing and then they'd think Gary was great."
The Permian Panthers finished the regular season with an 8-2 record, in a three-way tie for first place in District 4, but they made it into the playoffs through a coin toss. In the field house the night of the toss, there was a joyful uproar. The season was still alive, the hope renewed that the players could don jackets with those wonderful white patches reading STATE CHAMPIONS. But one player was absent from the celebration.
Dean performed reconstructive surgery on Boobie's knee in November. Rehabilitation from the surgery would be long and grueling, and the magic speed that had made Boobie so spectacular was gone. But there wasn't much sympathy for Boobie in Odessa.
On the practice field, a trio of local men gathered one afternoon to joke about Boobie's plight. One of them said maybe Boobie should kill himself now that he didn't have football.
"No," one of the others laughed. "When a horse pulls up lame, you don't waste a bullet on him."
When Boobie went home after the surgery, he saw everyone as an enemy, a contributor to the wreck of his senior year. Late on his first night back, he began to argue with his uncle. Their shouts echoed through the tiny rooms of the house. Boobie was feverish, despondent, with a puffed-up knee that no longer contained God's gift of speed; L.V., disappointed that all his work, all his attempts to mold his nephew into a Heisman winner, had ended up like this.
At 10:30 p.m., Boobie said he was going over to his aunt's house. L.V. told him he was crazy to go out just after he had had major knee surgery. "I'm through working with you," said L.V.