During the pre-season of the 1988 season, Boobie is the ultimate athlete. He has received numerous letters from college recruiters enticing him to come to their university to further his football career. There is a kind of invincible fire burning in him, a feeling that no one is as good as he is. Then comes the scrimmage against the Palo Duro High School Dons. He is flying all over the field and goes for fifteen yards. Only he wants more, even though it’s only a scrimmage. Near the sidelines, he plants his left leg to stiff-arm a tackler. But his legs get caught in the artificial turf and someone falls against his knee. When he gets up, he can barely put any pressure on it at all. The team doctor examines it and tells Boobie that he might be out for six or seven weeks. Boobie is aghast and asks the trainer, Trapper, what he thinks. Trapper doesn’t voice his own fear that the injury is so severe that he might never play football again in the same way. As for his uncle, L.V. sits frozen in the stands, because he has always feared Boobie might be seriously injured one day. He just never thought it would be at scrimmage that didn’t count for a single statistic and not when his nephew is just about to have it all.
He went to an all-black school, called Bethune, which only played other black schools. He and his brother, James, would watch Crane High School play other Texas towns and make fun of how poorly the white boys played the game. But inside, they’d be aching to be a part of it. His only consolation came 25 years later in the form of Boobie. He took in the boy when he was living in a foster home and began to teach him everything he knew about football. He started him in a Pop Warner (a little league football organization) team, which he himself coached and raised him to believe he was special enough to become the best player in Permian history.
After desegregation, Boobie went to Permian High, and L.V. began to groom him for stardom there. Then, the letters started pouring in asking Boobie to consider their schools. L.V. saved every one of them. As for his learning abilities, Boobie was classified as learning disabled which made him exempt for state-mandated proficiency tests as a requirement for graduation. He also had never taken the college boards. That meant that he was an automatic Proposition 48 case, meaning he couldn’t play his first year in the NCAA until he had improved his academic skills. He was the kind of kid for whom football was everything. This worried the members of the black community in Odessa who thought he’d never be able to handle it if something happened to him.
Meanwhile in the white community, it was suggested that if Boobie no longer had football, they should just put him down like a trainer would if a race horse pulled up lame. “What would Boobie be without football,” a coach was heard to have said, “A big ol’ dumb nigger.”
At the end of the scrimmage, Coach Gaines huddles his team around him, thinking to himself that he has prepared so meticulously for everything, but now his world is being affected by something over which he has no control. The next day, Boobie comes to the field house with the news that a doctor’s exam revealed that it was only a severe sprain and would require no more than ten to fourteen days to heal. However, a second exam by another doctor shows real damage to the knee, and Boobie will need arthroscopic surgery. Trapper envisions a fate worse than death for Boobie. He thinks he’s just going to drift away. Now, more than ever, the hopes of the team are on Mike Winchell. He’s going to need to have a greater year than they thought before Boobie’s injury.
This chapter reinforces the cruelty that the game of football sometimes perpetrates on the young men in high school. When they count too much on what the game can do for them and their future, they’re sometimes shot down with unfulfilled potential. Their lives are irrevocably damaged by the loss of the game. The irony for Boobie was that it happened during a worthless game like a scrimmage where nothing of importance happened except the end of a young man’s sporting career.