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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The faithful sat on little stools of orange and blue under the merciless lights of the high school cafeteria, but the spartan setting didn't bother them a bit. Had the booster club's Watermelon Feed been held inside the county jail, or on a sinking ship, or on the side of a craggy mountain, these fans still would have flocked there.

Outside, the August night was cool and serene, with just a wisp of West Texas wind. Inside, there was a sense of excitement and also relief, for the waiting was basically over—no more sighs of longing, no more awkward groping to fill up the empty spaces of time with golf games and thoroughly unsatisfying talk about baseball. Tonight the boys of Permian High School in Odessa would come before the crowd, one by one, to be introduced. And in less than two weeks, on the first Friday night in September, the march to state—to the Texas high school championship finals—would begin with the first game of the season.

By the time the Watermelon Feed began, there were about 800 people crammed into the cafeteria. They had come dressed up for the event, not in black tie or anything outlandish like that, but in Permian Panther black—black caps, black shirts, black pants, black jackets. They cheered for Ivory Christian, the hulking middle linebacker who preached on Sundays. They cheered for Brian Chavez, the tight end who was as good in the classroom as he was on the field. They cheered for Mike Winchell, the painfully shy quarterback who hated crowds.

And they cheered for Boobie.

Of all the players on the 1988 team, he was the one most destined to be a star. Fullback James (Boobie) Miles ran with flair, and at six feet and 200 pounds, he looked imposing in a football uniform. But it was something extra that made him a blue-chip college prospect, a kind of inextinguishable fire that burned within him, a feeling that no one on the field, no one, was as good as he was.

A person like me can't be stopped. If I put it in my mind, they can't stop me...ain't gonna stop me.

See if I can get a first down. Keep pumping my legs up, spin out of it, go for a touchdown, go as far as I can.

That was how it was when Boobie got the ball and tucked it under his arm. It was a magical feeling. And it was made all the more magical by the setting in which Permian played, that gorgeous stadium that had cost $5.6 million, with its artificial-surface field and its two-story press box, and its stands full of people who didn't just love high school football but had become irrevocably tied to it.

As local real estate agent and loyal Permian booster Bob Rutherford put it, echoing the sentiments of thousands: "Life really wouldn't be worth livin' if you didn't have a high school football team to support."

For 65 years, since the discovery of oil in West Texas, Odessa had been caught up in the unstable cycle of boom and bust. It had become a town of transients, a place to go to make money when the boom was on and then to leave as quickly as possible when the bust inevitably set in. There wasn't much else to entice a person to stay.

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