By H.G. Bissinger
Special to Page 2

From the book "Friday Night Lights." Copyright 1990. Reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. All rights reserved.

Part 2 of 4

From one perspective, the quickest way to understand Crane, Texas, was by thumbing through the ad section of the high school yearbook. There the glossy white pages featured blurbs for T & P Clothiers (HEADQUARTERS FOR STYLE AND VALUE!), Crane Motor Company (JOY AND JIMMY EXHIBIT THAT HAPPINESS IS OWNING A DODGE CHARGER), Crane Flower Shop (SAY IT WITH FLOWERS. LET IT BE OURS), Southern Union Gas Company (IF YOU WANT THE JOB DONE RIGHT, DO IT WITH GAS), Crane Service Parts (YOUR NAPA JOBBER IS A GOOD MAN TO KNOW), and Gloria's Salon of Beauty (BEAUTY IS OUR BUSINESS).

It was the kind of town where the big hangout was the Dairy Mart on Sixth Street because it had curb service, where Saturday afternoons meant plunking down a quarter for a matinee at the movie theater on Fifth Street and Saturday nights meant either a dance over at the county exhibition hall or a drag or two up and down North Gaston looking for girls and a little beer.

Fathers liked Crane because there was steady work in the oil field. Mothers liked Crane because there were few temptations that could entice their offspring. Children liked Crane because they hadn't been anyplace else, except to Monahans or Marfa or Big Lake for a basketball or football game. For many people, it had all the comfortable fixtures and feelings of a small town.

As "Friday Night Lights" his theaters this Friday and the ESPN Book Club debuts on Page 2, takes an in-depth look at the story of Odessa (Texas) Permian High School football:

  • Book of Month: "Friday Night Lights"

  • Excerpt from "FNL": Boobie's story

  • Author Buzz Bissinger discusses his book

  • How to turn a book into a sports movie

    FROM PAGE 3:
  • Billy Bob comfortable under "Lights"

  • "Boobie" Miles reflects on his saga

  • Tim McGraw shows his dark side

  • Reel Life: How real is the movie?

  • But not everyone liked it, and L.V. Miles had been one of those. For him, as for a handful of others who had the same skin color, the Crane he grew up in might as well have been on another planet.

    His life had been defined by a five-foot-high wall of rock and concrete. It ran along a street and had been built so the whites who lived on the edge of N-----town would not have to see it. He and the handful of other blacks who lived in this town of thirty-eight hundred people could do whatever they wanted inside that wall; no one really cared. But whenever they ventured outside it, it was without welcome.

    He had grown up in a place where the only way he could go into a restaurant, if at all, was through the back; where he wasn't allowed to go to high school football games unless he climbed a light pole or snuck under a fence; where it was perfectly fine to go to the Saturday afternoon matinee as long as he took the stairs to the right and sat in the balcony.

    The only time he had ever had contact with whites was during summer league baseball, but otherwise he stayed behind the concrete wall that fenced him and his friends in like cattle. He went to the colored school over on the corner. He swam at the colored swimming pool, not the white one where the teenage lifeguards had been placed on strict orders by a county commissioner to shut it down if any "n------" tried so much as to stick his big toe into it. He played at the colored park, not too far from the spot where the cross had been burned when he was twelve. He went to the colored youth hall.

    At Bethune, the colored high school he went to, all the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders-about twenty of them-were housed in the same little room near the entrance. He played basketball in a gymnasium that was tiny and suffocating, and he would never forget the one time he was allowed to play in the gym at the white school, Crane High, and how dazzled he was by the beauty of its backboards, by the sweet rows of bleachers rising above the smooth, glistening floor, as impossibly huge to him as a big-city arena.

    Check out a clip from "Friday Night Lights," ESPN Motion as Boobie Miles tries to make Permian QB Mike Winchell smile.

    Watch Coach Gaines deliver his locker room speech. ESPN Motion

    When he went back to Crane one day more than twenty years after he had left it, it was easy to pick out the landmarks of his life because most of them were still there -- the wall that had crumbled in places but was too well built to have disintegrated; the low-slung red brick of Bethune, with its row of grim windows like expressionless eyes; the red brick of the movie theater on Fifth, where he had had to sit in the balcony; the black cemetery where his mother was buried, an unadorned piece of ground with no trees to shield it from the constant clatter of supply trucks heading to McCamey or Texon or some other oil town outpost, next to a sign advertising the South Forty MX and ATV Track three-quarters of a mile down the road.

    As L.V. Miles drove through the streets of Crane, memories of the cross-burning and the colored pool and the wall that the whites built bubbled to the surface. They came out at random, with no special significance attached to one or the other, and he talked about them neither with bitterness nor with self-pity. That was just the way things were back then, and Crane had been no exception.

    But there was one memory that did seem to stand out above the rest, that he remembered in more detail than the others. It had to do with the one aspect of life that had kept him going while he lived there, which was sports. In 1961 and 1962 the basketball team at Bethune was the Class B state champion of Texas for "colored" schools, running a fast break so fast and fluid that it had the white folks in town actually setting foot in N-----town to see it. L.V. had been on that team. He was a nice-sized kid back then, six feet and 230 pounds, and there was one thing he wanted to do more than anything else. He wanted with all his heart to play high school football.

    Click here to buy H.G. Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights."
    But that was impossible. Bethune didn't have a football program. Only Crane High did, and L.V., who graduated from high school in 1963, wasn't allowed to go there.

    Instead the best his younger brother James and he could do was watch the Crane Golden Cranes as they went against Monahans and Marfa and Alpine and Big Lake and other West Texas towns for whom the game of football had become a badge of courage. The two of them snickered as they watched, knowing they could do it much better than the bunch of white kids out there on the field who didn't seem very tough or very fast. But inside they bled, wanting so badly to be a part of it, to hear the swell of an entire town that had turned out on a Friday night to rejoice and agonize with the Golden Cranes, except, of course, for those who lived behind the wall of N-----town and weren't welcome.

    "You'd watch these kids play, and it seem like somethin' burning would be inside of you and want to come out," said James Miles, remembering what it felt like to be deprived of the most important rite of male teenage passage there was in the state of Texas. L.V. felt the same sense of helpless frustration.

    "I wanted desperately to play football in high school and I never got the opportunity," he said. But twenty-five years later, about forty miles up the road in Odessa at Permian, there was some consolation.

    It came in the form of Boobie.

    Click here to go on to Part 3.

    From the book "Friday Night Lights." Copyright 1990. Reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. All rights reserved.