This chapter begins with Mike Winchell’s thirteenth year when his father was dying. Mike is uncomfortable with the way his father speaks as if he doesn’t have to put up a fight anymore. He had been tutored relentlessly by his father in Little League and had developed a healthy respect for his own talent. Then, his father’s health began to slip and Mike began to doubt himself, question his gift, brood over it. Now, his father had died and when his brother, Joe Bill, refused to let him live with him, it was because he felt Mike needed to stay in Odessa and make his father proud. Joe Bill himself had never been able to let go of the dream of playing football for Permian and now he wanted Mike to play for the school he couldn’t get out of his system. So Mike stayed in Odessa even though he never brought his friends to his mother’s home and he never said much about her. Instead, he persevered in football just like he had in baseball.
He was a coach’s dream except for one major fault they all worried about: he thought too much. Mike knew he didn’t just wing the ball or follow his instincts; instead he agonized over everything and sometimes when the pressure is on, something seems to unravel inside him. And so the first game begins, with Brian Johnson breaking a fifteen yard run off the right side, followed by Don Billingsley, the starting tailback getting the ball on a pitch. There is no one more proud or who wants his son to score the TD on the first drive than Charlie Billingsley. He had worn the black and white of Permian 20 years before as a star, a legend.
Charlie Billingsley may not be the meanest kid to ever come out of Permian, but he is somewhere near the top. It is hard to forget how tough he had been when he played the game in the late 60’s. He was also as memorable off the field as he was on it. He was in so many fights that the coach at the time warned him he’d be kicked off the team if he didn’t stop. However, his football skill allowed him to skip out of any real trouble. Unfortunately, his numbers were no precursor to success in college. He went to Texas A & M University, only to discover that you were a whole lot more expendable as a person there than you were in high school.
He transferred to Durant, a small school in Oklahoma and regretted it the rest of his life. He left school after yet another bar fight and drifted from one job to another. He eventually settled into the bar-restaurant business and soon Don came to live with him in order to play for Permian. He hadn’t forgotten the stories his dad had told about playing there and he wanted the chance for a State Championship too. He turned out to be just like his dad in other ways, too: fighting and drinking. Nonetheless, to Charlie, Don is someone to live through and that is pretty special. They will be together because of football for at least as long as the season lasts.
Don is heading for the end zone when suddenly the ball pops loose without anyone even touching him. El Paso Austin comes up with the ball. Fortunately, El Paso goes no further than six yards and after they punt, even though Winchell’s pass should have been intercepted, the ball pops into the hands of Robert Brown who scores to break the ice. Eventually, Winchell settles down and completes three touchdown passes before the half.
Unfortunately, Charlie Billingsley fumbles again just before the half and further mires himself in his nervousness. This continues in the second half when he slips on his own feet with clear sailing to the end zone on the way to a touchdown. As a result, Coach Gaines decides to start Chris Comer the second half at fullback. Billingsley plays as well, but it’s Comer who gets the ball. He becomes the new star when he dashes down the sidelines for a touchdown. This brings out Don’s innate racism when he thinks about losing his chance to a black kid. He thinks there are different rules for black and white at Permian and that they are just moving up another “nigger” to carry the ball.
This chapter reflects how competitive the positions on the team are and how pressured the coaches are to replace a kid who doesn’t live up to his billing with someone waiting in the wings to take his place. It’s all about winning and this brings out the racist attitudes in the whites, when they are replaced with black players.