Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream Summary

Buzz Bissinger


Published in 1990, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream recounts the story of a small town and the high school football team that defines it. The book follows one season of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers from Odessa, Texas, as they set their sights on the coveted Texas state championship. Penned by Pulitzer Prize–winning author H. G. Bissinger, the book offers a rare glimpse into small-town America. Bissinger's portrayal of Odessa was perceived negatively by some and, as a result, his life was even threatened. Other locals, however, took the book at face value, understanding that it was simply an effort to depict a small town and its beloved football team.

Situated in a town with a population of about 90,000 when the novel was written, Permian hinged all its hopes on the high school football team. Every boy at Permian dreamed of suiting up for the Panthers, a team whose record was unmatched. Young girls hoped to become Pepettes who, when they were not cheering, were baking cookies for the team.

Friday Night Lights is an in-depth study of the town, but it also serves as a character study of some of the players and coaches. Brian Chavez, the team's tight end, is a Mexican-American student who becomes valedictorian of his class and ultimately goes to Harvard after graduating from Permian. Gary Gaines is the team's coach who faces endless pressures from the town and the team's financial backers. Ivory Christian, a linebacker, is a religious African-American student who receives a Division I scholarship. Each of the players not only has to face the usual pressures of adolescence and academics, but also must deal with the insurmountable weight of the town's desire for a state football championship. In addition, there is some degree of racist overtones in the town, which troubles both the players and the coach.

Released as a major motion picture in 2004, Friday Night Lights starred Billy Bob Thornton as coach Gary Gaines and Connie Britton as his wife, Sharon. Due to the film's success, NBC created a dramatic series in 2006 which also starred Britton and Kyle Chandler. Both the film and the television series have received tremendous critical acclaim.


A Philadelphia writer and news editor named H. G. "Buzz" Bissinger set out in 1988 to explore "the idea of high school sports keeping a town together, keeping it alive." He had his pick of lighted stadiums throughout the Midwest rust belt or the south. He could have gone to Massillon, Ohio, a town of 30,000, where the Tigers play in an 18,000-seat stadium. He could have gone to Valdosta, Georgia, where the Wildcats boast "the winningest program in the nation," but he chose Odessa, Texas, and the Permian High School Panthers with their 20,000-seat stadium. Neither town nor team would ever be the same again.

Bissinger moved his family to Odessa in July of 1988, gained insider access to the team, and attended every practice, team meeting, and game throughout the season right up to the final moment of the state semifinal championship game. In the process, he singled out several players and coach Gary Gaines for special attention. But in a larger sense, he went well beyond the chronicling of a football season. Friday Night Lights puts into sharp relief and skillfully intermingles the pressures placed upon teenaged athletes in Odessa: the struggles with a depressed economy; an educational system that takes a backseat to football; and, finally, the inherent racism of the town.

What is particularly interesting is the narrative technique that Bissinger employs. In the best journalistic tradition, there is not a single authorial "I" in the book. He uses an omniscient point of view that removes him completely from the story yet allows him to "overhear" and report the team's and town's most intimate details.

Boom or bust Odessa, Texas, sits atop the largest oil deposit in the lower forty-eight states—the Permian Basin. Prior to this book, the most recent boom had lasted from 1973 to 1981. Unfortunately, by 1988, gushers had long since disappeared from the Permian scene. The First National Bank of Midland, Texas, Odessa's sister city, had failed. Bank fraud and embezzlement ran rampant and bankruptcies multiplied. Oil field workers were laid off. While Odessa drilled hard for every drop of oil, OPEC set the prices with its vast Middle East reserves. This was the economic situation into which Bissinger stepped. Not even Odessa's beloved Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, a one-time Midland resident, could aid the crisis.

Against this backdrop, a high school football team was charged with keeping the town's spirits up and hopes alive. As one parent said: "When Permian football goes in Odessa, then everything will go."

In 1959, Permian High School opened in the...

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