Monday, 19 March 2007

Book Review: Friday Night Lights

I realize I might be a little late to the party reading this book, since there's a movie and TV show at least based on this idea (I haven't seen either)... but wow, what a great book.

In case you don't know what it's about, H.G. Bissinger basically followed around and almost became a part of the Permian High football team (obviously minus the actual playing part) and part of the town of Odessa, TX for a year in the late 80s, to follow the phenomenon of High School football in Texas.

In essence, the town lived and died by the football team, placing enormous pressure on the boys from a very young age, and making them play through almost any injury, all to be a part of the team, and be a "hero." Football was the most important thing in Odessa... certainly more important than the actual education aspect of high school. The football players were the most respected members of town, and looked up to by everyone.

A review on the back of the book says, "It reads like fiction, unhappily, it is fact." This is a good description as far as I'm concerned... the seriousness that high school football is taken with is a bit disconcerting, almost like its fiction. And I don't mean to tell anyone how to live... obviously a large part of my life revolves around sports... but when high school football becomes far more important than high school education, that becomes a bit of a problem.

Here are a couple of my favorite passages from the book... this first one is talking about how 3 teams tied for the best record in the conference, but only 2 teams make the playoffs. So, they had a coin flip to determine what 2 teams made it, and it was AIRED LIVE at 1 AM. That is how important this was. For reference, the Permian coach was getting "For Sale" signs planted in his yard with upset fans after Permian had lost 2 games up to that point (by 1 point each), and if he didn't make the playoffs he might get fired.

If the nickel came up tails, Permian was out of the playoffs, and the chorus of complaints and criticism against him would only intensify to the point that it might become unbearable for his family to remain in town. If it came up heads, it simply meant that three men would have to line up in a row and make jackasses of themselves once again in front of live television cameras.

The other passage I thought really captured the spirit of the book came near the very end, talking about the end of the season, when [SPOILER] Permian won the state title the year after Bissinger followed the team.

They played with a flawlessness and sense of purpose that had been building inside them all their lives. After it was over tears flowed freely down their faces, and also down the faces of the grown men and women who depended on them year after year after year.

It was hard to fathom the shock of what Odessa had gone through during the eighties, from a world where everything seemed possible to one in which it was hard to hold on to anything with certainty. So much had happened. So much had changed. But one anchor was still there, as strong and solid as ever. It didn't matter who was playing, or who was coaching. It would always go on, just as Jerrod McDougal had realized, because it was a way of life.

Overall, just a great book, and one I highly, highly recommend reading if you have not yet.

If you have read it, what did you think?