The next game is the Midland High Bulldogs and the Permian fans begin camping outside Ratliff Stadium on Sunday night in order to purchase tickets. There are subtle whispers, however, that Midland has the stuff to take the Panthers, a sign of the insecurity after the Marshall game. Usually it is Midland Lee that causes Permian to fret, but now their minds are on the Bulldogs. In the locker room before the game, Gaines rachets up his pep talk with something more emotional, urging his players to echo his phrases and exhortations. And always they end with, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”
The two teams trade punts and then Permian scores twice within a few minutes, once on a two yard run by Comer after a 54 yard dirve and the other a 36 yard pass from Winchell. He follows that with one of his best passes ever, a 49 yard score. By the fourth quarter, the score is 35-0, but Permian doesn’t let up and scores once more before the end of the game. There are numerous skirmishes between individual players in the final quarter: Jerrod McDougal consistently hitting Jeff Rashell over and over until the defensive end finally goes down, and Brian Chavez going at it with another Midland player who can only swear at his opponent while Chavez just silently keeps hitting him. Tony Chavez is enormously proud of his son. Never in a thousand years could he have believed it would turn out this way. He is enormously successful himself, a lawyer with his own practice, but he never thought it would be this good. Fortunately, he supports his son’s team and the idea of Mojo while still remaining very different from those around him. He is a liberal in a field of die-hard conservatives, and he sometimes just shakes his head at the beliefs of most of Odessa. The game ends with the Permian players lined up, helmets off and looking like a row of beauty queens. Everything around them is caving in; the way of life in Odessa is badly shaken. But none of that matters as they stand before a sell-out crowd after a deeply satisfying conclusion to the game. Football in West Texas has become a quasi-religious experience.
A week after the game, George Bush comes to Odessa for a campaign appearance. The crowd is demonstrative of life in Odessa: no blacks or Hispanics in the audience, no sign of poverty, no signs of homelessness or abuse, no signs of the social fissures that are tearing apart America’s urban centers to the east and the west. It is perfect and unblemished on this day. George says just what the crowd wants to hear: that America is still great, still number one, and that what they believe in, what they care about is the very essence of what it means to be an American. He says, “Texas is on the way back!” and it is an absolutely mystifying statement. Their belief in him is utterly amazing and ironic. Their economy had fallen apart during the Reagan-Bush administration. But his opponent, Michael Dukakis, is antagonistic to them, because of all he represents. He can’t gain a foothold in the minds of West Texans, because of their history. They are descendents of the John Birch Society, and they have their own conservative groups like Odessans for Decency and the Christian Voting Block. Dukakis thinks he can win the state on the basis of the economy, but he never left the lofty heights of the east and attended a high school football game in Texas. There he would have seen just by watching the people and how they reacted with their children and to the game that there is a heartbeat in West Texas that can’t even consider the idea of a liberal in the White House. He doesn’t have a chance against the politics of Friday night lights.
This chapter reaffirms the strength of high school football in Texas. It is a reflection of everything the majority of the people in 1988 believe. It is just a game, but it is the conservative God, Country, and Family motto all rolled up in the hike of a pigskin on a 100 yard field.