Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Glory Of Championship Football Elusive

October 25, 2004

The H.G. Bissinger book, "Friday Night Lights," about Permian High School football in Odessa, Texas, has been made into a recently released movie. The film dramatizes the incredible attention and adulation teen-age football players receive - and what happens to them as the limelight shifts to others. Here some of Bissinger’s observations.

Bathed in glory. "He routinely pushed himself beyond what he thought was possible because he knew if he didn't, he wouldn't make it. In return there was a fantastic, visceral payoff - a single season when he become a prince, ogled at, treasured, bathed in the unimaginable glory of Friday night.

"It was ... like being a gladiator, like walking into the Roman Colosseum with all those thousands in the stands yelling yea or nay; all wishing they could be you down there on that field.

"They (after a loss) would still be the gladiators, the ones who were envied by everyone else, the ones who knew about the best parties and who got the best girls and laughed the loudest and strutted so proudly through the halls of the school as if it was their own private kingdom.

"(Next year) ... a new set of kids, a new set of faces, a new set of hopes, a new set of heroes who would be paraded atop the shoulders of the town as gloriously as the Greeks honored their gods."

A star player rehabbing a serious injury. "He didn't seem like a high school football player at all, but an aging prizefighter who knew that if he didn't get a knockout tonight, if he didn't turn his opponent's face into a bloody pulp, if he didn't sting and jab and show the old footwork, he was done, washed up, haunted forever by the promise of what could have been.

"Could he regain his former footing as a star? Or at the age of 18, was he already a has-been?"

Anxiety about playoffs. "He (after a second loss) felt heartbroken as if someone painfully close to him had died, and he said he had no idea what he would do if Permian didn't make the playoffs and the season ended suddenly in a few days.

"What would life without football be like? He knew he'd be lost, just like his senior friends before him had been lost."

Losing a playoff game. "It was, the sound of teen-age boys weeping uncontrollably over a segment of their lives that they knew, had just ended forever."

Playing for a state championship. "There was no other moment like it, and anyone who had ever played high school football could still recall it with perfect charity, that emotional peak, that time in life when all energy was concentrated on a single point and everything was crystal clear.

"What happened afterward, whatever success or failure, or happiness; or horror, it could not be forgotten.

Winning a championship season. "... a kid so caught up in it all that there is no room for anything else, another kid for whom nothing in life would ever be so glorious, so fulfilling as playing high school football.

"These kids think they're invincible ... It doesn't matter what state you are from, how many players you have on your team: They're popular. They're in hot demand, like a hot rock group.

"No matter what they do, it's a hit. Everything they do is right. And they can't find that again. What other job can they find that has that glamour?"

Out of the limelight. "You live out the fairy tale for that one year of your life, ... you're worshipped, and then the year is over and you're like everyone else." - former star player.

"We all feel our husbands have been unhappier with everything after they got out of it. You see your name up in lights and people follow you and they put your name in the newspaper and then all of the sudden the season is over ..." - wife of former player.

Locker room not the same. "Like many players, he talked about it as if it had been a fantastic dream. He missed all of it, the locker room, the games, the girls who adored him and followed him through the school corridors.

"And he talked about how hard it was to go back to the locker room after it was over and realized that you weren't a part of it anymore ... he couldn't help feel like a has-been.

"These kids have no soft cushion. They might come to the locker room after a big game. Their favorite coach would give them a big, sincere hello and then quickly drift off because of more pressing needs, and they would paw around the edges of the joyous pandemonium and it would become clear that it wasn't theirs anymore - it belonged to others who had exactly the same swagger of invincibility that once upon a time was their exclusive right."

A coach, reflecting on the anguish of the injured star, could have been speaking for the former young heroes who shared those elusive moments of glory.

"It's hard when you have greatness and it's taken from you and you just can't get it back into your hands."

Quotations used with permission of Addison-Wesley.