#GROUP 1: Book Reviews of Friday Night Lights
If you’ve ever been to Texas, you know football is huge. A town there is not measured by its people or how much land it covers, but by the quality of the football program and the number of state championships its team has won. Friday Night Lights tells the story of such a place.
The town of Odessa, Texas prides itself on having the winningest football program in not only Texas, but the entire country. They come into the 1988 season looking for their first state championship under their new and untested coach.
One of the reasons I love this book is that it’s not just about football - it also focuses on race and prejudice. Texas is in the deep South, so even though schools are integrated, the town is not. In the average Texan’s mind of the time, the only thing an African-American is good for is playing football. It also shows the financial hardship the town has fallen on. The oil industry was all the Odessan economy had. With the fall of oil prices, the whole town fell, too.
This is a good book because even if you don’t know what a Hail Mary pass is or what a linebacker does, you can still relate to the pressure to succeed, and imagine the thrill of playing under the glare of those Friday night lights.
#GROUP 2: Author Interviews and Commentary about the Book Writing Process
Find at least 5 articles/interviews in which you learn about Buzz Bissinger’s process. How did he choose Odessa? How did he gain all the permissions to interview and publish names? Is there anything out there that talks about his family’s year in Odessa? Are there interviews in which he talks about how he gained access to certain people or his techniques when getting the story?
#GROUP 3: Town Views
Find credible sources that discuss the “aftermath” of Friday Night Lights on the residents of Odessa. What did they think of the book? How did they express their feelings about it? Find at least 5 sources that relate to the town’s/local people’s reactions to the book or the attention.
#GROUP 4: Where Are They Now?
Tell us what has become of these players today. Bissinger has apparently kept in good touch with Boobie Miles, and I believe they’ve had things published about keeping in touch. Try to find out about the other characters too. What has become of their lives since the book? Try to find updates for at least 5 of the players.
Book Review Synthesis: Here you should write a nice, hearty paragraph (at least) per book review. There should be one final paragraph where the group finds trends and synthesizes all the reviews and attempts to make sense out of them (as in, what do all these reviews seem to have in common?).
Review 1: This review is positive, citing Bissinger’s “great style and passion” as being responsible for the unforgettable “American snapshot in deep focus” that is Friday Night Lights. It compares the importance of football in Odessa to secular religions, and stresses the importance of the football team to the town.
Review 2: This review is positive. The author asserts that Bissinger makes the book interesting even for those who have little knowledge or interest in football because of the way that he immerses the reader in the tensions of the book. The author claims that Bissinger’s “language sometimes verges on the overblown,” but does not necessarily think of this as a bad characteristic of his writing.
Review 3: This review is positive because the author values the way that Bissinger “focuses on race and prejudice” beyond football and allows the reader to relate to the pressure the characters are facing and the excitement of the Friday night games.
Review Summary: The credible reviews that we found, such as these three, tended to be positive. A common trend was an appreciation for Bissinger’s writing style, particularly the way that he chose to focus on the impact of football on Odessa and the views held by the people that live in it. The reason for this appreciation is that Bissinger’s commitment to painting a full, realistic picture of the town allows for non-football fans to enjoy and relate to the book. Only one review made a negative comment about Bissinger’s writing style, claiming that he was sometimes a bit dramatic, but ultimately considered this to be a nice complement to the massive nature of football’s significance to Odessa.
Interview/Commentary Synthesis: Here you should each write a paragraph about each interview or piece of text you find. There should also be one final paragraph where the group synthesizes all of these findings and makes connections between the sources.
Buzz Bissinger discovered Odessa while driving across the country. He mainly was driving across the southern states, from Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and then Texas. While driving across the little towns in Texas, he noticed it was very dry and rural, something he wasn’t use to being from an urban area. But every couple of miles he would see a high school football stadium. They were well kept and could see the green turf for miles. He realized that it wasn’t about just a football game every Friday, but it was the “shrine of the town.” That’s what they worshipped; they loved going to a stadium and cheering for their favorite team. He ended up choosing Odessa specifically because he asked some college recruiters that scout the West Texas area. He was hesitant at first, but one the recruiters told him just to go look at their stadium and then you can make up our mind. Once he saw that multi-million dollar stadium he couldn’t resist. He then asked the Permian football department if could he follow them around and gain access to team meetings, and they agreed. He then moved down to Odessa for a whole year. He became a member of the community. One reason that he really wanted to write about Odessa was because it was in the middle of nowhere and gets very little attention. People would always bash the town and call it ugly. But Odessa did get bragging rights about high school football. That’s what their town was proud of. When he arrived in Odessa, it was much worse than what he expected; he was unprepared for how intense they took football. He then decided that he would chose six boys that he would focus one and thought were representatives of the team as a whole. He used these characters to shape his story.
Town Views Synthesis: Here each group member should write a paragraph about the source they found depicting the town’s reactions. There should also be one final paragraph in which the group synthesizes all of the findings to give a broader strokes report of how the town, in general, seemed to take the book and all the attention.
From the sources that we have found, the town was outraged with the story and overall feel that Bissinger felt was the identity of the town during his yearlong research. In 1990, Bissinger was scheduled to make his remarkable celebrity return back to Odessa for his book signing. Although the plans drastically changed because of the amount of threats he generously received due to his perception of Odessa and their preoccupation with football. ‘’People here took the book as an attack on their values,’’ said Eric Smalley, manager of the city’s B. Dalton bookstore. ‘’I believe the author is wise to stay away, at least for the time being.’’ Threats of physical harm and the concern of better bringing bodyguards if he ever came back was running through Bissinger’s mind at the time. The threats were rather surprising to Bissinger because of all of the known facts that were included in the book. The parents of Odessa were furious the most by the book. Permian had been banned from the playoffs the year the book was released because of the usage of enhancement drugs that was being given to the players, the coaches of Odessa High ratted them out. Although of course all of the blame and fingers and controversy went straight to the book. According to the six players that were mentioned in the book, Bissinger was right on the money with everything that went on in Odessa during his visit. Even though everything the people of the town said about Permian and the players was not like the comments were kept in secret from him. “Nothing that I wrote about was gained by, you know, sort of hiding behind bushes. When people used the word “n——r” to me, I had my notebook open, and I was there clearly as a reporter” said by Bissinger at an interview with ESPN. The town did not want anything to do with Mr. Bissinger after his showcasing of the story behind the Permian High School football program in Odessa.
Where Are They Synthesis: Here each group member should report out on at least one character and write about a paragraph. There should also be one final synthesis paragraph in which the group makes meaning out of all these updates. What do your findings say about how the culture prepared/didn’t prepare people to lead purposeful lives, etc…
Boobie attended Ranger college for a year and played fullback for a year but quit after a year due to his knee. Has had trouble holding jobs. Played some semi- pro football. Two children that live in Midland with their mother. 2009 lives in Dallas, and does not have a job however has a five year penalty in jail for an assault charge. 2012 Buzz met with miles and talked about their 25 year friendship. Made a deal if he completed his probation, his charge would be dismissed. He also had diabetes. Brian Chavez attended Harvard to get a bachelors degree in government. He then went to Texas Tech law school where he got a full scholarship. He is a lawyer in Odessa. Mike Winchell went to Baylor directly after graduating from Permian, where he later dropped out. He then went to Tarleton State where he majored in marketing and minored in accounting. Currently he works for an independent surveyor in Decatur specializing in surveying homes and building sites. Don Billingsley went to East Central University where he did not play college due to a knee injury. He got a bachelors and masters degree and did counseling work in Oklahoma city. He then married and moved to Dallas. Know he is known to be a soft, spoken family man and is currently selling commercial insurance for Liberty Mutual.
Library Journal Review
From Ashley: This interview took place in 2008. The interviewer and Buzz Bissinger talked over the phone from his home in Philadelphia. I only listened to the first two recordings, one is called “Finding Odessa” and the other “A Wounded Community’s Pride.”