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
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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

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When he was about five, Boobie went to live with his father, James Sr. He was working two jobs, as a truck driver and printing-plant laborer, and Boobie spent a great deal of time alone. Later, his father started seeing a woman who, Boobie claims, physically harmed him. One day when he was seven he went to school, and officials there, believing he had been abused, would not let him return home. He was placed in a foster home in the Houston area, and eight months later he was put in the care of his uncle L.V. Miles in Odessa.

Their first year together was not easy, and L.V. made many trips to Boobie's elementary school when the boy got into trouble for fighting or talking back to a teacher. L.V. searched for something, an experience that would help them learn and grow together, some way to channel all that anger that seethed within Boobie. He found it when he asked Boobie if he wanted to play on the Vikings, the Pop Warner football team that L.V. coached. L.V had not played football in high school because in his hometown, Crane, only the white school had a team. But he had played two years in the Marines and one in college. Through football, L.V. and Boobie developed a strong bond.

"He's cool; I love 'im a lot," said Boobie of his uncle in the summer of '88. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be as good, because I wouldn't have nobody to push me like he pushed me."

"Boobie, he's the most complete back that ever went to [Permian]," said L.V. with pride. "He's the only running back I ever saw who could take those 200-pound linebackers out, I mean take 'em out." When L.V. said that, he was in his living room watching a video of the 1987 Piano-Permian game in the state semifinals, which Piano won 29-21.

L.V.'s three-bedroom house was in Odessa's Southside, where the blacks and Hispanics lived. L.V. and Boobie shared the house with L.V.'s wife, Ruby, and her three daughters. Ruby worked for a department store in the mall. L.V. was a trucker, but since the oil bust hit Odessa and the rest of the West Texas oil patch in the early '80s, jobs had been increasingly difficult to find, and he barely worked at all. L.V. and Ruby's combined income came to about $1,000 a month.

"See that little spin there—we worked on that," said L.V. as he watched Boobie dart free from the grasp of a Piano defender and go for several of the 141 yards he gained that day. L.V. watched silently for a while, and then some other aspect of Boobie's play struck him.

"His blocking, we worked on that even in Pop Warner."

From the spring through the early fall of '88, college recruiters wrote Boobie. L.V. carefully kept the letters in a large envelope. They came from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Houston, Texas A&M, Clemson, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, LSU, SMU, UCLA and Arkansas. Some schools tried harder than others (Texas A&M led the way, with 23 pieces of correspondence). Some sent glossy football programs, while some favored personalized Mailgrams. But all of them gushed and fawned, and it was impossible not to be blinded by them:

The Houston Cougar football staff has been putting together the top list of high school senior football players in Texas.... Booby [sic], we feel that you are one of these few select players....

You had an outstanding junior year at Permian and I am sure your senior year will be even better. You are in a situation that many young athletes dream about....

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