This excerpt is reprinted on Longform by permission of Buzz Bissinger, who has written a new update of Friday Night Lights for its 25th anniversary. Hear Bissinger discuss the book and more on the Longform Podcast.
The faithful sat on little stools of orange and blue under the merciless lights of the high school cafeteria, but the spartan setting didn't bother them a bit. Had the booster club's Watermelon Feed been held inside the county jail, or on a sinking ship, or on the side of a craggy mountain, these fans still would have flocked there.
Outside, the August night was cool and serene, with just a wisp of West Texas wind. Inside, there was a sense of excitement and also relief, for the waiting was basically over—no more sighs of longing, no more awkward groping to fill up the empty spaces of time with golf games and thoroughly unsatisfying talk about baseball. Tonight the boys of Permian High School in Odessa would come before the crowd, one by one, to be introduced. And in less than two weeks, on the first Friday night in September, the march to state—to the Texas high school championship finals—would begin with the first game of the season.
By the time the Watermelon Feed began, there were about 800 people crammed into the cafeteria. They had come dressed up for the event, not in black tie or anything outlandish like that, but in Permian Panther black—black caps, black shirts, black pants, black jackets. They cheered for Ivory Christian, the hulking middle linebacker who preached on Sundays. They cheered for Brian Chavez, the tight end who was as good in the classroom as he was on the field. They cheered for Mike Winchell, the painfully shy quarterback who hated crowds.
And they cheered for Boobie.
Of all the players on the 1988 team, he was the one most destined to be a star. Fullback James (Boobie) Miles ran with flair, and at six feet and 200 pounds, he looked imposing in a football uniform. But it was something extra that made him a blue-chip college prospect, a kind of inextinguishable fire that burned within him, a feeling that no one on the field, no one, was as good as he was.
A person like me can't be stopped. If I put it in my mind, they can't stop me...ain't gonna stop me.
See if I can get a first down. Keep pumping my legs up, spin out of it, go for a touchdown, go as far as I can.
That was how it was when Boobie got the ball and tucked it under his arm. It was a magical feeling. And it was made all the more magical by the setting in which Permian played, that gorgeous stadium that had cost $5.6 million, with its artificial-surface field and its two-story press box, and its stands full of people who didn't just love high school football but had become irrevocably tied to it.
As local real estate agent and loyal Permian booster Bob Rutherford put it, echoing the sentiments of thousands: "Life really wouldn't be worth livin' if you didn't have a high school football team to support."
For 65 years, since the discovery of oil in West Texas, Odessa had been caught up in the unstable cycle of boom and bust. It had become a town of transients, a place to go to make money when the boom was on and then to leave as quickly as possible when the bust inevitably set in. There wasn't much else to entice a person to stay.
Situated 350 miles west of Dallas, Odessa was—even to those who lived in it—unusually ugly: surrounded by stubby patches of mesquite, with a constant wind and choking dust storms that, at their worst, could turn the place dark in the middle of the day.
Larry McMurtry, in his novel Texasville, called Odessa the "worst town on earth." Molly Ivins, a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald, called the place an armpit, which, as the Odessa American cheerfully noted, was a step above the usual comparison to a rectum. The magazine Psychology Today, in a 1988 ranking of 286 U.S. cities according to stress levels, rated Odessa the seventh-worst in the country.
But from the 1920s through the '80s, whatever Odessa had lacked, it had always had high school football. "I think it's Odessa's ticket to success," said H. Warren Gardner, vice-president of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, in Odessa. "[Residents] can go anywhere in the state and brag about it. They get kicked around on the social fabric. They get kicked around on the terrain—it is flat and has no trees. But they sure play great football."
In 1927, as story after story in the Odessa News heralded new strikes in the oil fields, the only non-oil-related activity that regularly made the front page was the exploits of the Odessa High Yellowjackets. In 1946, when the population of Ector County was about 30,000, Fly Field in Odessa was routinely crammed with 13,500 fans, many of whom saw nothing odd about waiting in line all night to get tickets to a football game.
In the '60s and '70s and '80s, after the tradition of great high school football was transferred from Odessa High to Permian, people didn't just wait all night for tickets; sometimes they waited two days. Among the devoted was Ken Scates, who in 1983 refused painkillers after heart surgery in Houston so he could stay awake to receive regular phone updates on the score of Permian's game with archrival Midland Lee. Then there was Carl Garlington, who spent hours poring over microfilm of old newspapers at the Odessa public library to prepare a book that contained individual and team statistics for each game that Permian had played since it opened in 1959. And there was Beverli Everett, who in her 1983 divorce settlement with her ex-husband, Eddie Echols, had it spelled out that she would get two Permian season tickets and he would get two. And there was retired grocery store executive Jim Lewallen, who said that Permian football "is just something that keeps me goin'. It helps you survive all this sand, the wind, the heat. I wouldn't live any other place."
Such devotion helped create one of the most successful sports dynasties in America. From 1965 to 1987, the Permian Panthers won four state championships, went to the state finals a record eight times and made the Texas high school playoffs 15 times. Over that time span their worst season record was 7-2.
Expectations were high every year, and in 1988 they were, if possible, even higher. The Associated Press, in its preseason predictions, had chosen Permian to win the state title. There were many reasons to think that it would. The team was loaded with returning starters. But there was one reason in particular.
"Why are scores of Permian games so lopsided?" asked Boobie Miles one day. Then he gave the answer.
"Because they only have one Boobie."
There was always something special about him, even the way he was born, on April 16, 1970, en route to St. Luke's Hospital in Houston with a police escort. Boobie lived with his parents until he was three, when his mother left him with his maternal grandmother in Houston, went off to Oklahoma and never returned to get him.
When he was about five, Boobie went to live with his father, James Sr. He was working two jobs, as a truck driver and printing-plant laborer, and Boobie spent a great deal of time alone. Later, his father started seeing a woman who, Boobie claims, physically harmed him. One day when he was seven he went to school, and officials there, believing he had been abused, would not let him return home. He was placed in a foster home in the Houston area, and eight months later he was put in the care of his uncle L.V. Miles in Odessa.
Their first year together was not easy, and L.V. made many trips to Boobie's elementary school when the boy got into trouble for fighting or talking back to a teacher. L.V. searched for something, an experience that would help them learn and grow together, some way to channel all that anger that seethed within Boobie. He found it when he asked Boobie if he wanted to play on the Vikings, the Pop Warner football team that L.V. coached. L.V had not played football in high school because in his hometown, Crane, only the white school had a team. But he had played two years in the Marines and one in college. Through football, L.V. and Boobie developed a strong bond.
"He's cool; I love 'im a lot," said Boobie of his uncle in the summer of '88. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be as good, because I wouldn't have nobody to push me like he pushed me."
"Boobie, he's the most complete back that ever went to [Permian]," said L.V. with pride. "He's the only running back I ever saw who could take those 200-pound linebackers out, I mean take 'em out." When L.V. said that, he was in his living room watching a video of the 1987 Piano-Permian game in the state semifinals, which Piano won 29-21.
L.V.'s three-bedroom house was in Odessa's Southside, where the blacks and Hispanics lived. L.V. and Boobie shared the house with L.V.'s wife, Ruby, and her three daughters. Ruby worked for a department store in the mall. L.V. was a trucker, but since the oil bust hit Odessa and the rest of the West Texas oil patch in the early '80s, jobs had been increasingly difficult to find, and he barely worked at all. L.V. and Ruby's combined income came to about $1,000 a month.
"See that little spin there—we worked on that," said L.V. as he watched Boobie dart free from the grasp of a Piano defender and go for several of the 141 yards he gained that day. L.V. watched silently for a while, and then some other aspect of Boobie's play struck him.
"His blocking, we worked on that even in Pop Warner."
From the spring through the early fall of '88, college recruiters wrote Boobie. L.V. carefully kept the letters in a large envelope. They came from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Houston, Texas A&M, Clemson, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, LSU, SMU, UCLA and Arkansas. Some schools tried harder than others (Texas A&M led the way, with 23 pieces of correspondence). Some sent glossy football programs, while some favored personalized Mailgrams. But all of them gushed and fawned, and it was impossible not to be blinded by them:
The Houston Cougar football staff has been putting together the top list of high school senior football players in Texas.... Booby [sic], we feel that you are one of these few select players....
You had an outstanding junior year at Permian and I am sure your senior year will be even better. You are in a situation that many young athletes dream about....
We are in New York preparing for the Kickoff Classic and enjoying the sights. Good luck in your first game. Looking forward to watching you play later this season....
Most people who met Boobie agreed that he was one of those kids for whom the game of football had become as indispensable as a part of the body. Taking it away from him would have been like amputating a leg. Some in town wondered what might happen to him if he had to stop playing. They saw something dangerous in this, because Boobie's role as a black star in a white-dominated town was a precarious one.
Blacks made up roughly 5% of Odessa's population of 100,000. It was only in 1982, after a bitter fight in federal court, that the schools in Odessa had been truly desegregated. Before then, 85% of the blacks in the county who attended high school had gone to Ector High in the Southside. The school was closed as a means of achieving desegregation, and its students were distributed between the town's remaining two high schools, Odessa and Permian.
Most whites had never had much use for Ector. The less heard about the Southside the better. "I think the [white] community perceived it as a minority place, a place they wouldn't travel into," said Jim Moore, Ector's last principal. But with Ector's closing, whites suddenly began to see enormous value in some of the school's black students. It had nothing to do with their academic potential. It had everything to do with football potential.
There was remarkable interest in which school, Permian or Odessa, would get the greater number of black students, and thereby the greater number of black football players. In the end, the curious zigs and zags of the boundary line between the two school districts gave Permian a clear edge over Odessa High.
"It was gerrymandering over football," said Vickie Gomez, who was a member of the county school board when the line was drawn. "Whatever [the school board] did, they did not want to hurt the dynasty that was being established at Permian. I think it clouded their vision. We spent more time talking about the athletic program than the curriculum."
As a result of this desegregation, football became the one arena in town where blacks could be sure to gain acceptance. "We don't have to deal with blacks here," said Lanita Akins, a devout Permian fan who was active in county Democratic party politics. "We don't have any contact with them, except on the Permian football team. It's the only place in Odessa where people interact at all with blacks."
"We know that we're separate until we get on the field," said Nate Hearne, the only black among the 11 men who coached football at Permian. "We know that we're equal as athletes. But once we get off the field we're not equal."
It was because of this that some in town worried about Boobie. Others, all of them white, didn't worry about him at all. Without the ability to run with a football, they gleefully suggested, Boobie might as well get a broom and start preparing for his other destiny in life—sweeping the corners of storerooms.
"What would Boobie be without football?" echoed a Permian coach when asked the question one day. The answer was obvious, and he responded without the slightest hesitation.
"A big ol' dumb nigger."
Boobie moved off the line against the Palo Duro Dons, and he was all pulsating motion: legs thrust high, hips swiveling, arms pumping, shoulder pads clapping wildly up and down. He went for 15 yards, and though it was only a preseason scrimmage in the August twilight in Lubbock, he wanted more; he always wanted more when he had the ball.
Near the sideline he planted his left leg to stiff-arm a tackier. It was a routine move, but the leg got caught in the artificial turf and then someone fell on it from the side. When Boobie got up he was limping and could barely put any pressure on the leg.
The Permian team doctor, Weldon Butler, ran his fingers up and down the leg, feeling for broken bones. Then he moved to the knee. Boobie watched the trail of those fingers, his eyes ablaze and his mouth slightly open. With the tiny voice of a child, he asked Butler how serious it was, how long he would be out.
Butler just kept staring at the knee.
"You might be out six, eight weeks," Butler said quietly.
Boobie jolted upright, wincing as if from a shock.
"Oh, ——, man!"
"We don't know until we X-ray it," said Butler. "It may be worse if you don't stop moving that leg."
"You can't be serious, man! You got to be full of——, man!"
Butler said nothing.
"Man, I know you're not talking about any six to eight weeks!"
Boobie was placed on the players' bench beyond the sideline, and his black hightops were slowly untied. The leg was put in a plastic splint filled with ice to help stop the swelling.
"I won't be able to play college football, man," Boobie whispered as the sounds of the game floated over him in the gauzy light. "It's all I ever wanted to do. I want to make it in the pros."
"All I wanted to do," he repeated. "Make it to the pros."
The next day he was examined by a local doctor, who diagnosed the injury as only a sprained ligament, and Boobie returned to the Permian field house with a wide grin on his face. But four days later an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Thurston E. Dean, examined Boobie and felt the injury was severe enough to require arthroscopic surgery. It was done in early September, the day before Permian's season opener against El Paso Austin.
When Dean performed the surgery, he saw that Boobie had severely torn the anterior cruciate ligament as well as cartilage in his left knee. Afterward, Dean gave Boobie two options: immediate reconstructive surgery, which he recommended, or a program of rehabilitation that would allow Boobie to play football with a knee brace but would risk further injury to the knee and, later in life, arthritis. Dean discussed the options with Boobie and L.V., and the Mileses opted for the brace.
Boobie perceived the surgery as a minor setback, that was all. He would be back in no time, just a month or so.
"I can't wait to come back," he said. "Put on that knee brace and fly."
He seemed as confident and carefree as ever, not only in the locker room, where he liked to hold court, but also in the classroom. As long as the big-time colleges kept whispering in his ear through their letters and postcards, there was little for him to worry about.
In biology class one day, Boobie took a seat in the back row. Instead of opening his notebook, he ripped open an envelope and read a Mailgram from University of Nebraska coach Tom Osborne wishing him luck in an upcoming game.
"O.K., phenotype and genotype," said the teacher, Barbara Skillern.
There was the sound of another rip as Boobie opened yet another letter from the University of Nebraska. The teacher lectured for about five minutes, and then it was time for the class to do a worksheet on genetic makeup.
"Where are your notes from yesterday?" she asked Boobie.
"I left 'em," he said with a smile.
"You didn't leave 'em. I watched you. You didn't take any notes." Skillern shrugged in resignation.
Boobie smiled again.
While other students casually filled in the worksheet, Boobie ate some candy. He left blank the worksheet's entire second page, which asked for definitions of certain genetic terms. He leaned against his book bag and poked his pen into the hair of the girl sitting in front of him. She smiled as if he were an endearing little brother, and he laughed. The teacher then began lecturing again in a no-nonsense style. She obviously wanted to teach the kids something. Boobie wasn't interested.
Boobie wasn't the only football player who didn't have to strain himself in the classroom. Two starters on the Permian offense, tackle Jerrod McDougal and tailback Don Billingsley, were enrolled in a course called food science and nutrition.
"This is what I do all day," said Billingsley as he sat in class and grappled with the murky issues of correct menu form and whether to put the shrimp cocktail down as an appetizer or a salad. "All I do in class is show up. They should make these classes 15 minutes long. Last year in English I had to work. This year it's like, teach me something before I go to college."
There were some wonderful academic courses at Permian. They were taught by teachers who worked endlessly to encourage and inspire their students. But it was hard for these teachers not to feel discouraged sometimes. "The Bible says, where your treasure is, that's where your heart is also," said LaRue Moore, the chairman of the English department. To prove the point, she pointed to the school budget.
For boys' medical supplies, such as athletic tape, Permian spent $6,750 a year. For teaching materials for the English department, which included just about everything except required textbooks, it spent only $5,040. And for rush-order film prints of Permian football games for the coaches, it spent $6,400.
Moore didn't mind the school's emphasis on football. She had grown up in West Texas, and it was obvious to her that high school football could galvanize a community and keep it together. "The thing is, I don't think we should have to go to the booster club to get books," she said. "I don't think we should have to beg everyone in town for teaching materials."
During Boobie's absence from the starting backfield, a junior named Chris Comer was called up to the varsity to play fullback. Like Boobie, Comer was black. Like Boobie, he was from the Southside. Like Boobie, he was living not with his natural parents but with a relative, his grandmother. In the previous school year, Comer had been ineligible for spring practice because of Texas's no-pass, no-play rule, and he didn't inspire much confidence among the Permian coaches.
But their reservations largely disappeared in the opening game against El Paso Austin. On Comer's fourth carry of the season, he took the ball at the 50, waited behind the line for a split second until a tiny alleyway developed, turned the corner, accelerated past two defenders and dashed down the sideline for a touchdown. Comer gained 116 yards in all as the Panthers won 49-0. In the next game, against a Marshall team that was ranked third in the state, he gained 132 yards, though Permian lost 13-12. The game after that, he gained 128 and Permian won 35-14. The Permian staff extolled his virtues and worried less and less about how Boobie was recovering from his arthroscopic surgery.
"In a week or two the fans will think Boobie already graduated," said the Permian trainer, Tim (Trapper) O'Connell.
When the fourth game of the season took place, against Odessa High, Boobie was still in street clothes. The game was an epic grudge match between the town's two high schools, and more than 15,000 fans filled Ratliff Stadium. But Boobie, who had looked forward to this game for a year, felt nothing. "Nah, I'm not that excited," he said, and looked on impassively as the team moved effortlessly ahead without him, winning 35-7.
The following week Boobie came back to practice and the shame of a white practice jersey (only the starters wore black, and Comer was the starter at fullback now). He did not play in Permian's next game, a 42-0 win over Midland High.
But the following week, when it became clear he was going to get a chance to play, Boobie's mood brightened.
That Friday night, against the Abilene High Eagles, he watched from the sideline as Comer scored the first two touchdowns of the game, one on a three-yard run and the other on an 88-yard play in which Comer broke up the middle on a trap and outran everyone else to the goal line. Boobie stood behind the other players glassy-eyed, his hands clasped.
He got into the game in the second quarter and gained four yards on his first carry of the season. He got the ball again, spinning for a gain of two yards, and then he blocked from the tailback position as Comer scored his third touchdown to make the score 28-0 at the half. Comer had already gained 125 yards on nine carries. Boobie had gained six yards on two carries.
In the second half, with a third-and-two at the Abilene 23, Boobie took a handoff and suddenly you could see why Dave Campbell's Texas Football, the bible of high school football in the state, had touted him before the season as one of the 10 best running backs in Texas. He cut up the middle and broke past several tacklers for an eight-yard gain and a first down. The old fire was there again.
But it was only a flash. Several plays later, Boobie left the game limping with a cramp. Permian eventually won 49-0.
To L.V., watching Boobie that night was a harrowing experience. He couldn't help but worry that his nephew would do further damage to his knee, even though the brace provided good protection. Should he let Boobie continue to play for the sake of a major college scholarship? Or should L.V. put the dream in jeopardy by having the major knee surgery done now, before there was more physical and psychological damage?
"High school is important, but this is a stepping-stone," said L.V. "If he gets hurt here...." The thought made L.V. shudder.
Most of the Permian staff, with the notable exception of Hearne, didn't see any dilemma for Boobie. A doctor had given him the option to play, which in the minds of the coaches meant he could play. And all the things that went along with the injury—the psychological blow of becoming a white-shirt substitute, the certainty of major knee surgery after the season, the fluid that had to be drawn from the knee, the fear of getting hit there—were prices Boobie would have to pay. Others had done it. He wasn't the first.
As the coaches discussed Boobie, it sounded as if they were talking about a pro running back with a multimillion-dollar contract, not a high school senior. "I think he can come back," said O'Connell. "It's a mental block. He has blinded himself. His attitude is, If I can't be the center of attention, I don't want to be anything at all. He's not just letting himself down. He's letting the team down, he's letting his uncle down."
"It takes a special kind of kid to overcome an injury like that," said Mike Belew, who coached the running backs. "I don't think he'll do what it takes to be 100 percent."
For L.V, the decision seemed almost impossible to make. "I'd rather hold him out and let him take his chances in college," he said. "If it wasn't the football season, it would be much easier." But L.V knew how much emotion and energy and expectation Boobie had invested in his senior year, how much of Boobie's life, as well as his own, seemed to hinge on those Friday night lights. How long had they waited for their chance?
He decided to let Boobie continue.
The players sat at the front of the gym in little metal chairs that were adorned with dozens of black and white balloons, which made the players look like little boys attending a gigantic birthday party. From all around came wild cheers of adulation: from the entire Permian student body, 2,000 strong, in the bleachers; from the cheerleaders, with their sweetly hissing pom-poms; from the majorettes in their glittering black costumes. Pandemonium broke out when defensive back Coddi Dean gave the last lines of a verse he had written:
The moral is obvious, it's plain to see.
Tonight at Ratliff Stadium, we're gonna stomp on Lee!
As Boobie sat there, the feeling came back to him, the "attitude," and on this last Friday in October he felt better than he had all season. He could envision sitting in that very same spot a week later, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd as he picked up the Superstar of the Week award from one of the local television stations for his outstanding performance against Midland Lee.
The game began in front of 15,000 screaming fans at Ratliff Stadium. From one side of the field came the endless, frantic cheers of the Permian fans, "Mo-jo! Mo-jo! Mo-jo!" From the Midland Lee side came the equally zealous war cry of "Reb-els! Reb-els! Reb-els!" Boobie took his place on the bench. And as the minutes ticked away, it became clear to him that the coaches had no intention of playing him in a game in which a spot in the playoffs was on the line.
At halftime, with Permian clinging to a 21-16 lead, the players came off the field exhausted—in for a fight they had never expected. In the locker room Boobie flung his shoulder pads against the wall. In a rage he threw his equipment into a travel bag and started to walk out the door. Busy making halftime adjustments, neither head coach Gary Gaines nor any of his four assistants made a move to stop Boobie. They had always perceived him as something of a pain in the neck, a prima donna. "He's got a man's body, but you're dealing with the mentality of a 12-year-old child," Belew had once said about Boobie, remembering the time he had criticized him for something and Boobie "laid down just like a mule."
But Hearne maneuvered Boobie into the trainer's room to try to calm him down. "Come on, man, don't do this," Hearne said.
"Why'd [Gaines] play me the last weekend?" Boobie said.
"I know how hard it is. Don't quit now."
"That's why I'm gonna quit. They can do it without me."
"Everything's gonna be all right. Everybody knows how it feels to be on the sidelines when he should be out there."
"Could have hurt [the knee] last week. He didn't think about it then."
"You'll be all right. Just hang tough for now. The team needs you. You know we need you. Use your head."
"Why not just quit?"
"This is one game. We got six games down the line."
"Six games to sit on the sidelines."
"You can't walk off now, in the middle of a game."
"I'm just gonna leave because I ain't gonna sit on the sidelines for no one. I see what it's all about."
"What's it all about?" asked Hearne.
"I'm a guinea pig," said Boobie.
He finally agreed to go out for the second half, and he glumly watched as the Panthers lost to the Rebels by only one point, 22-21, despite having been three-touchdown favorites.
So unthinkable, so catastrophic was the loss that it sent Odessa into a tailspin. Coach Gaines was distraught—a year's worth of work possibly wasted, the chorus against him growing. He was a very nice man, people said, but he wasn't a very good coach when it counted. He stayed in his office long past midnight, wondering why the 18-hour days he had spent preparing for the Rebels had not paid off. For a team with Permian's talent to miss the playoffs seemed impossible, but now, with a 7-2 record, it might happen. And if it did, Gaines had to wonder, would he have the job next year?
When he went home, several FOR SALE signs had been punched into his lawn, a not-so-subtle hint that he get the hell out of town. He took the signs and dumped them in the garage along with the others he had already collected.
The following week a petition to have Gaines fired went around the Kettle restaurant on Andrews Highway. When Bobby Boyles, a devout Permian booster, was asked to sign it, his reply was succinct: "Go to hell.
"Lose two games by two points and they're ready to hang 'im," said Boyles angrily. "What it is, they're spoiled. They've won too damn many. They need about five years of losing and then they'd think Gary was great."
The Permian Panthers finished the regular season with an 8-2 record, in a three-way tie for first place in District 4, but they made it into the playoffs through a coin toss. In the field house the night of the toss, there was a joyful uproar. The season was still alive, the hope renewed that the players could don jackets with those wonderful white patches reading STATE CHAMPIONS. But one player was absent from the celebration.
Dean performed reconstructive surgery on Boobie's knee in November. Rehabilitation from the surgery would be long and grueling, and the magic speed that had made Boobie so spectacular was gone. But there wasn't much sympathy for Boobie in Odessa.
On the practice field, a trio of local men gathered one afternoon to joke about Boobie's plight. One of them said maybe Boobie should kill himself now that he didn't have football.
"No," one of the others laughed. "When a horse pulls up lame, you don't waste a bullet on him."
When Boobie went home after the surgery, he saw everyone as an enemy, a contributor to the wreck of his senior year. Late on his first night back, he began to argue with his uncle. Their shouts echoed through the tiny rooms of the house. Boobie was feverish, despondent, with a puffed-up knee that no longer contained God's gift of speed; L.V., disappointed that all his work, all his attempts to mold his nephew into a Heisman winner, had ended up like this.
At 10:30 p.m., Boobie said he was going over to his aunt's house. L.V. told him he was crazy to go out just after he had had major knee surgery. "I'm through working with you," said L.V.
"I'm through with you," said Boobie.
"Then get your stuff out."
Boobie did just that, because nothing, not even his uncle, meant anything to him anymore.
"I miss him, but as time goes on, I'll learn to live with it," said L.V. "It kind of wears away, but it's somethin' you think about all the time. Boobie was just like my own."
To Hearne, what had happened to Boobie was strikingly clear. "He needed special, special, special attention, but he wasn't going to get it because he wasn't healthy," Hearne said. "He was expendable because we had a heck of a running back."
With Comer leading the way, Permian won four playoff games. But in the semifinals, on a bleak December day in Austin, the Panthers lost 14-9 to Carter High of Dallas, and the dream of goin' to state ended without being fulfilled.
For the last time Coach Gaines gathered the players into a circle. All around him, bent on one knee, were teenage boys in tears, their great, compelling belief in themselves punctured.
"I'm very proud of you as a person, I'm proud of you as a team," said Gaines.
Boobie never heard those words. Back in Odessa, hundreds of miles away, he sat in a car listening to the game over the radio.
It wasn't Norman or Fayetteville or College Station or Lincoln in the fall of 1989. Once Boobie had major knee surgery, he stopped receiving letters and Mail-grams from those places. But Ranger (Texas) Junior College offered him a scholarship and he accepted it.
He became the only freshman starter in the Ranger backfield. He also settled his differences with his uncle, and once again they were united in pursuit of the same goal. "I told him what we're gonna do now, start working toward the Heisman," said L.V.
Boobie was as fearless as ever on the football field, but his knee still swelled up with fluid. "I've never seen that burst of speed," said Ranger coach Joe Crousen. "I don't know how many times he got caught from behind. It's hard when you have greatness and it's taken from you and you just can't get it back in your hands."
But Boobie didn't give up. He went on to have a strong spring practice, and Crousen thought he still might be able to play Division I football somewhere.
Then Boobie flunked out of Ranger. According to Crousen, he just stopped going to class.
Crousen was saddened and dismayed. He couldn't help but wonder if Boobie, because of his natural athletic ability, had gotten too used to having everything handed to him.
This August, while other college players prepared for the beginning of football practice, Boobie stood in front of his home in the Southside, chatting quietly with members of his family. It was then that his cousin Jodie found out that Boobie wasn't going back to Ranger and would sit out a year. She was shocked and worried.
"You're just going to rust up, "she said.
"It ain't gonna happen," replied Boobie, for he knew better. "It's a God-given talent."