SI Vault
H.G. Bissinger
September 17, 1990
The oil-patch town of Odessa, Texas, lives for one thing: the start of the high school football season
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 17, 1990

Friday Night Lights

The oil-patch town of Odessa, Texas, lives for one thing: the start of the high school football season

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Situated 350 miles west of Dallas, Odessa was—even to those who lived in it—unusually ugly: surrounded by stubby patches of mesquite, with a constant wind and choking dust storms that, at their worst, could turn the place dark in the middle of the day.

Larry McMurtry, in his novel Texasville, called Odessa the "worst town on earth." Molly Ivins, a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald, called the place an armpit, which, as the Odessa American cheerfully noted, was a step above the usual comparison to a rectum. The magazine Psychology Today, in a 1988 ranking of 286 U.S. cities according to stress levels, rated Odessa the seventh-worst in the country.

But from the 1920s through the '80s, whatever Odessa had lacked, it had always had high school football. "I think it's Odessa's ticket to success," said H. Warren Gardner, vice-president of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, in Odessa. "[Residents] can go anywhere in the state and brag about it. They get kicked around on the social fabric. They get kicked around on the terrain—it is flat and has no trees. But they sure play great football."

In 1927, as story after story in the Odessa News heralded new strikes in the oil fields, the only non-oil-related activity that regularly made the front page was the exploits of the Odessa High Yellowjackets. In 1946, when the population of Ector County was about 30,000, Fly Field in Odessa was routinely crammed with 13,500 fans, many of whom saw nothing odd about waiting in line all night to get tickets to a football game.

In the '60s and '70s and '80s, after the tradition of great high school football was transferred from Odessa High to Permian, people didn't just wait all night for tickets; sometimes they waited two days. Among the devoted was Ken Scates, who in 1983 refused painkillers after heart surgery in Houston so he could stay awake to receive regular phone updates on the score of Permian's game with archrival Midland Lee. Then there was Carl Garlington, who spent hours poring over microfilm of old newspapers at the Odessa public library to prepare a book that contained individual and team statistics for each game that Permian had played since it opened in 1959. And there was Beverli Everett, who in her 1983 divorce settlement with her ex-husband, Eddie Echols, had it spelled out that she would get two Permian season tickets and he would get two. And there was retired grocery store executive Jim Lewallen, who said that Permian football "is just something that keeps me goin'. It helps you survive all this sand, the wind, the heat. I wouldn't live any other place."

Such devotion helped create one of the most successful sports dynasties in America. From 1965 to 1987, the Permian Panthers won four state championships, went to the state finals a record eight times and made the Texas high school playoffs 15 times. Over that time span their worst season record was 7-2.

Expectations were high every year, and in 1988 they were, if possible, even higher. The Associated Press, in its preseason predictions, had chosen Permian to win the state title. There were many reasons to think that it would. The team was loaded with returning starters. But there was one reason in particular.

"Why are scores of Permian games so lopsided?" asked Boobie Miles one day. Then he gave the answer.

"Because they only have one Boobie."

There was always something special about him, even the way he was born, on April 16, 1970, en route to St. Luke's Hospital in Houston with a police escort. Boobie lived with his parents until he was three, when his mother left him with his maternal grandmother in Houston, went off to Oklahoma and never returned to get him.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14