Friday Night Lights (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Back in the early 1980's, when I was working in the corporate marketing department for 7-Eleven, we had our annual bragging rights meeting in Dallas, and the guys from West Texas took as their theme "It's hard to be humble." Midland and Odessa were two of the most profitable metropolitan areas on a per-store basis in 1981, and the local marketing guys from that area droned on and on about their successful local initiatives.

To those of us in the audience, it seemed that a great comeuppance was in order, because their marketing programs were among the weakest in the United States, and their local personnel were barely above the level of Cro-Magnon Man. The geniuses who explained the secrets of their success made presentations which made them sound like the drop-outs from a remedial reading class.

Their reversal was swift, and ripped their legs out from under them with such force that even those of us who most wished to see them falter had to feel some compassion for them. Between 1982 and 1984, the oil industry in West Texas lost one third of its jobs, and the economy of the region was destroyed. In 1984, only two years after the glory of "hard to be humble", Midland and Odessa dropped to the very lowest two spots on the profitability rankings of all of the metropolitan areas in which Southland operated!

From the very best in the USA (or close to it) to the very worst in just two years.

It got much easier for them to be humble.

When economic devastation hit the Permian Basin area in the mid-80s, the towns turned for a morale boost to that greatest of all Texas narcotics, high school football. People in small-town Texas always obsess about high school football, as I learned in 1991 and 1992 when I observed first hand the state championships for my company's two "home towns" at the time, Killeen and Temple. Although the disease of football obsession is pandemic in Texas, no towns obsess over it more than the western twins, Odessa and Midland, where Permian and Lee High Schools are always powerful contenders for State Championships. Those teams were important to those towns in the boom times, so you can imagine how the football mania got inflated in the depression of the mid- and late 80s. In that era the towns had absolutely nothing else to offer their residents in terms of hope and pride. The people there felt like losers, and prep football offered a way for the downtrodden local losers to win vicariously.

This film is the story of one of those teams, Odessa Permian, in one of those years, 1988.

Y'know, this is a very good sports movie, but I have to say it pissed me off. Why? Because it pretends to be true, and isn't. I got especially irritated when the author of the book came on in the DVD special features and said, "You couldn't make up these kinds of details. Nobody has that good an imagination, or at least I don't." Well, I'll tell you what, cowboy, maybe you are shootin' straight, because people say your book did tell the whole truth, but the problem is that those comments on the DVD make it seem that you're referring to the movie, not your book. Whatever imagination you lacked, ol' son, the screenwriter had enough for both of you. The movie just made up stuff as it went along.

Let's start with the big deal of the day. Odessa Permian did not even go to the state championship that year. They did lose to the powerful Dallas team pictured in the movie, but it was in the semi-finals, not in the state championship, and it did not take place in Houston in the climate-controlled Astrodome, but in Dallas in a water-logged outdoor stadium during a rain storm. (That Dallas team went on to win the finals 31-14.)

Second, Odessa did not lose that game 34-28 as pictured in the film. Subtract 20 from both sides and you'll just about have it. They lost 14-9. I suppose 14-9 games aren't very cinematic, are they? They don't provide much opportunity for dramatic scoring opportunities and long roads back. Permian did have a chance to win the game on the final play of the game, as shown in the film, but it was not a run stopped at the one inch line, as the script would conveniently have it. The ending of the real game was much less dramatic than the movie in one sense because it was simply a run-of-the-mill incomplete pass, but the real life situation was actually more dramatic than the film in another regard - that pass was to win the ball game, not to tie. (I wonder why the scriptwriter didn't make the score 34-29 instead of 34-28.)

Third, in a sense, the Odessa boys really were the State Champions that year!

Say what? How can that be?

It's because life is often far more complicated than the movies. Far more. Especially in big-time Texas high school football. You see, the Dallas team that they lost to was crooked, and got caught for various recruiting violations, so they had to forfeit their 31-14 victory over Converse Judson in the championship game. The official score of the State Championship was retroactively changed to 1-0, and Converse Judson was declared the official but tainted State Champion. But wait! The Dallas team was only forced to forfeit the finals, not any of the earlier rounds - so Odessa Permian had been ousted by an illegal team! To make a fair comparison, the tainted state champion Converse Judson team had lost to the illegal Dallas team by 17 in the finals, but Odessa Permian had only lost to those same guys by 5 in the semis. I think you could reasonably argue that Odessa Permian WAS the legitimate Texas state champ that year. They certainly seemed to prove it the following year when they did win the undisputed championship.

Fourth, a lot of the details along the way were completely misleading. If you watched the film, you think they won big in their first game, then got killed in game two after having lost their big star, Boobie Miles. Wrong! They did win the first game 49-0, but Boobie was not even in that game. He actually injured himself in a pre-season scrimmage! Permian did lose the second game, but it was not the 49-7 slaughter pictured in the film. They dropped a squeaker, 13-12. After that second game, perhaps you think they just barely survived the next six with grit and guile, absent their star, right? Wrong. They won those six games 35-14, 35-7, 42-0, 49-0, 48-2, and 56-14. Then you think they lost the storied rivalry game with Midland Lee by getting their asses kicked, right? Wrong. They dropped another squeaker 22-21.

Fifth, the season pictured was Gaines's third with the team (not second), and his salary was 48k (not 60k). Why change these details?

I'm not sure how I feel about all this lyin'. I guess I don't mind when a story is a pack of lies, and I don't mind when a story is true, but I do dislike a pack of lies masquerading as truth. Criminy! If you are going to make up all the details, just change the names while you're at it, and make the whole damned thing fictional, rather than making it a nearly-fictional story with real names.

On the other hand, I ask you, does that really matter? I mean really?

First of all, the film drew me in and held me there with great pacing and characterization throughout.

Furthermore, the film reaches down into the universal truth even if it fudges the details.

  • The poor coach is threatened with firing everywhere he goes. Even the Wal-Mart and fast food clerks tell him they really hope that he wins the state championship, in the same conspiratorial, subtly threatening tone that the Godfather uses when he tells you that he can do a favor for you, but someday he'll ask you a favor. In both cases, "you damn well better do it, or else ... " is implicit.

  • Businesses close and the towns are deserted when the games are going.

  • The players have to decide the true meaning of being winners and being teammates, and they do it in a realistic and inspiring way.

So, in the last analysis, since I found the story engrossing and moving and generally true to the reality of Texas high school football, I reckon I'll forgive the lyin', and call it an excellent fictional story loosely based upon real events.

  1. The records of Odessa Permian in the 80s (1988 is the season pictured in the film.)
  2. Texas 5A state championship games, 1980-2003


  • Full-length commentary by the director and the author of the book upon which the film is based.
  • Deleted Scenes
  • "Tim McGraw: Off the Stage"
  • Player Cam Action Shots
  • "Real Life, Real Games, Real People: The True Story of the 1988 Permian Lions"


There is no nudity that can be seen in real time, but a frame-by-frame look shows that Amber Heard showed her nipples in a sex scene with the quarterback.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three and a quarter stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4

  • Yahoo voters called it a B+, and Yahoo estimates that the critics also called it a B+

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $30 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs must have been another $25 million. It was a moderate hit, grossing $61 million, reaching a maximum distribution of 3004 screens.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. One of the better sports movies, and one of the overlooked minor gems of 2004.

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