Bissinger then chronicles the history of Odessa. It was founded in the s by land speculators from Zanesville, Ohio. They advertised the land as being as fertile farmland like in Kansas and Iowa. However, the settlers quickly discovered that it was dry and arid. The town saw little growth until when oil was discovered in the Permian Basin hence the high school's name. Almost overnight, the town boomed and it saw more growth in a month than it had seen in ten years. The population increased dramatically and money was everywhere. In town, the roads were so muddy that the oil workers, nicknamed boomers , often had to bring in cattle to pull the equipment to the oil fields.
According to the book, "diarrhea, lawlessness, overcrowding, bad water, prostitution, and a rat problem" plagued the town. Out in the oil fields, the boomers worked round the clock to make their money. Meanwhile, Odessa High School 's football team garnered success by winning the state championship in and making it back to the championship in , thus laying the foundation for football fanaticism.
Another boom in the s led to the opening of Permian High School in Permian proved quickly that it was not going to play second to Odessa High. They became known as the embodiment of Odessa: small, white and overachieving. Meanwhile, due to demographic shifts and oddly drawn boundaries, Odessa High became populated with mainly poor whites and poor Hispanics—while a substantial majority of the city's relatively small black population ended up in the Permian attendance zone.
This is not to say, however, that Permian didn't have its share of poor people from all major ethnic groups. Bissinger talks about the Watermelon Feed held at Permian in August as a preseason celebration. He then chronicles the history of Permian football.
Since its founding in , it had won the state championship in , , and Despite the fact that it only won one state championship in the s, Permian had statistically been the winningest team in the state of Texas. Bissinger then discusses the pressure that Gaines is constantly under because of how intensely devoted the Permian fans are. High school football is used as a distraction for the once thriving community of Odessa which had gone into a slump when the second boom ended.
This chapter focuses upon the black star fullback, James "Boobie" Miles, who is Permian's ticket to the state championship. Bissinger uses Boobie as an example of the negative effect high school football can have its players. Boobie is not a good student and doesn't have to worry about grades because he will most likely get a football scholarship to a major college.
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The dream seems all too real until, in August, during a scrimmage in Lubbock , Boobie injured his knee. With the season opener only a week away, no one knows what to do. Now the pressure is on quarterback Mike Winchell.
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Meanwhile, junior running back Chris Comer is called up to replace Boobie. This chapter focuses upon the life of Mike Winchell, Permian's starting quarterback. Mike lived with his mother. His father, Billy, died when Mike was just thirteen. Billy had always been keen on Mike's playing football when he was a little kid. Mike's older brother, Joe Bill, took over that role but, in , Joe Bill had moved out. Mike was very intelligent and received an offer of admission from Brown University but had prospects of playing football only at a smaller college.
Don Billingsley is Permian's starting Tailback and son of the legendary Charlie Billingsley who played football in the s. Don, whose mother had been a Permian cheerleader while Charlie played football, moved from Blanchard, Oklahoma to Odessa in before his sophomore year.
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Don and Charlie had always had a rocky relationship but it was all made better by football. Don was always inspired by his father's stories and always tried to live up to him. Yet, sometimes he faltered because he sometimes fumbled the ball on key plays. Bissinger discusses the issue of race relations in Odessa which he describes as the ugliest racism he had ever witnessed. The town didn't desegregate until the s and even then the schools were racially divided. Many viewed football as exploiting the talented black athletes by using them and then spitting them out afterwards.
Bissinger begins by discussing the life of Permian linebacker Ivory Christian. He originally thought he would go to Ector High School, where many poor blacks went, until Permian was desegregated in the early s. Ivory had ambitions of becoming a minister at a Baptist church. Ivory gains these ambitions when he has a life changing dream that involves a dark tunnel and light. Because of this dream, Ivory decides that he will change his partying ways and turn his life over to God. Because of this decision, he becomes ambivalent towards football, what it represents, and for its beginning the inner battle between Homeric and Christian values.
Bissinger spends the chapter discussing the situation at Permian High School. He highlights the misplaced priorities as well as bad spending. More money is spent on sports medical supplies than the entire English department. The teachers make less money than the coaches who are financially at the mercy of the boosters who seldom care about education. Permian's SAT scores have plummeted dramatically since the s and no one seems to care as long as Permian wins football games.
As a result, everyone including the football players suffers. As the season progresses, Permian begins winning games. Bissnger discusses the Permian—Odessa High game. The cross town rivalry is fueled by the cultural difference between the schools. For one thing, Permian also got the majority of the Ector County education budget while Odessa High typically got what was left which wasn't that much.
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Odessa High had once been the beacon of hope in the city. It won the state championship and did well overall. Then, Permian opened in The middle class whites went to Permian and the Mexicans went to Odessa High. Also, Permian hasn't lost to Odessa in over twenty years. Permian wins the game 35—7. Bissinger discusses the political views in Odessa which has long been a Republican voting city.
The election is coming up and it is clear that majority of its residents are going to vote for Republican candidate and then Vice President George H. Bush , who lived in the area in the s and s. They had loved Ronald Reagan so the choice was clear. Many view Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis as far too liberal and think he is out to destroy their way of life from his comfortable home in Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Permian rolls over Midland High School winning 35—0. Bissinger also discusses the life of Brian Chavez, the Permian tight end.
Chavez is extremely smart and has ambitions of going to Harvard. His father Tony is a successful lawyer originally from El Paso, Texas. Tony had enlisted in the United States Army after high school. After he was discharged, he took his GI Bill money and decided to take law classes at Texas Tech in Lubbock eventually graduating with a law degree in He supported the family by working as a police officer in El Paso.
On his trips between the two cities, he drove through Odessa and thought it was dirty, seedy and trashy, and so decided to work in Midland. However, once he graduated, he got a job offer in Odessa and moved his family there. In , the family moved to the Country Club estates, the nicest part of town. Tony was, in many ways, the embodiment of the American dream. Bissinger discusses Boobie's football career after his injury.
He thought the injury wasn't that serious and constantly tried to convince the coaches he could play.
He played as a back up in several games but never got any serious playing time. But as Boobie's career is falling Mike Winchell's is soaring. Bissinger discusses the Permian- Midland Lee rivalry. Even though the two towns were very similar, the hatred ran deep. Odessans viewed Midland as a town full of rich snobs and Midlanders view Odessa as a city full of rednecks, money burners and drunks. In an article in Forbes magazine named Midland one of the nicest places to live in America.
Bissinger traces the roots of the hatred to the second oil boom of the late s and early s.
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Oil prices skyrocketed and for the second time in forty years the boom was on. People were making money left and right in both Midland and Odessa. Stories abounded of business men buying Lear jets and building huge homes for no other reason than the fact that they could.