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Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Updated: October 8, 6:45 PM ET
Friday Night Lights: Boobie Miles

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.

The preseason scrimmage in the late August twilight had barely started when Boobie peeled off a run that gave glimpses of why the college recruiters were after him, why Texas A & M and Nebraska and Houston and all the others routinely crammed his mailbox with heady testimonials to his magnificence.

"You have been recommended to us as an outstanding prospective major college student-athlete."

Boobie and L.V. Miles
Boobie Miles provided his uncle L.V. the shot at glory he never had.
"You had an outstanding junior year at Permian and I am sure your senior year will be even better. You are in a situation that many young athletes dream about."

"The entire Houston Cougar football staff has been in the process of putting together the top list of high school senior football players in Texas. . . . Booby, we feel that you are one of these few select players."

"James -- we are in New York preparing for the kickoff classic and enjoying the sights. Good luck in your first game. Looking forward to watching you play later this season."

They weren't interested in him just because he was big and looked imposing in a football uniform. There were a thousand kids in Texas who fit that description. It was something else, more than just strength or speed, a kind of invincible fire that burned within him, an unquenchable feeling that no one on that field, no one, was as good as he was. "Miles had the attitude," said former teammate Art Wagner with admiration. "He thought he was the best."


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

FROM THE ESPN BOOK CLUB:
  • 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?


  • He had played his junior year with a kind of seething emotion that sometimes dissolved into quick frustration and discouragement. He easily got rattled, particularly when things weren't going well, and there were times on the field when he seemed as frazzled as a child. But there were other times when that emotion made him spellbinding and untouchable.

    It had been there during the Abilene High game when he gained 232 yards on eight carries and scored touchdowns of 62 yards, 80 yards, and 67 yards. His father, who lived in Houston, had been in the stands that night. They had been separated for some time, and it was the first time James senior had ever seen his son play football at Permian. He was almost unprepared for what it felt like to watch his own flesh and blood out there on that field. "Oh, man," he remembered. "The first I seen him carry that ball, he busted that line for 80 yards. Do you know how you feel when you see your son doin' good, doin' somethin' special? It kind of put a lump in your throat. Man, that boy ran that ball that night!"

    The fire had been there during the Arlington game in the playoffs, after he had come off the field with tears in his eyes because one of the opposing players had called him a n-----. Coach Gary Gaines tried to comfort him and told him the other team only wanted to get him worked up so he would get himself kicked out of the game. And then he saw a change come over Boobie as if something had snapped, the hurt and humiliation giving way to a raging anger. He only carried the ball twelve times that day for forty-eight yards, but it was his savage blocking that made the recruiters up in the stands take notice, the way he went after the Arlington defenders with uncontrolled vengeance, the way he flattened a linebacker and rendered him semi-unconscious. It proved to them that Boobie had more than just the requisite size and speed to play big-time college ball. He had the rawness, the abandon, the unbridled meanness.

    Boobie Miles
    When in uniform, Boobie Miles was head and shoulders above his teammates.
    "He's strong as snot," Mike Winchell said of him.

    "He's the best football player I've ever seen," said Jerrod McDougal.

    Boobie himself was well aware that all eyes were poised on him this season, and while he luxuriated in it, he seemed almost carefree about it. Holding court in the trainer's room shortly after the practices had begun in the August heat, he bantered with the nine-year-old son of one of the coaches as if they were best pals in grade school together, calling him "waterbug head," asking him if he had a girlfriend, grabbing his head and giving him a noogie, telling him that when it came to "the shoe," Adidas would never hold a nickel next to the almighty Nike. He lay on one of the brown trainer's tables, but it was impossible for him to keep still. With his head hanging over the table, he ran his fingers along one of the crevices in the wall and started to do a rap tune.

    He asked one of the student trainers to dial the phone for him and call his girlfriend. The student held the phone out as Boobie, shaking with laughter, yelled from across the room, "What's the deal, what's the holdup on comin' to the house?" When Trapper walked in, Boobie called him "cuz" and "cat-daddy." A few minutes later he was handed a list of defensive plays to study. He looked at it for several seconds, the droning terminology of numbers and letters as appealing as Morse Code, and started to read it aloud in rap to give it a little flavor, a little extra pizzazz.

    He continued to play with the wall and then turned onto his stomach before flipping over again on his back. He spoke in little snatches.

    "My last year . . . I want to win State. You get your picture took and a lot of college people look at you.

    "When you get old, you say, you know, I went to State in nineteen eighty-eight."


    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

    He dreamed of making it to the pros, just as long as it wasn't the New York Jets because he didn't like the color green. And as he flipped onto his stomach one more time, he said he couldn't ever, ever imagine a life without football because it would be "a big zero, 'cause, I don't know, it's just the way I feel. If I had a good job and stuff, I still wouldn't be happy. I want to go pro. That's my dream . . . be rookie of the year or some-thin' like that."

    He moved off the line against the Palo Duro Dons and everything was in pulsating motion, the legs thrust high, the hips swiveling, the arms pumping, the shoulder pads clapping wildly up and down like the incessant beat of a calypso drum.

    He went for fifteen yards and it was only a scrimmage but he wanted more, he always wanted more when he had the ball. Near the sidelines he planted his left leg to stiff-arm a tackler. But the leg got caught in the artificial turf and then someone fell on the side of it and when he got up he was limping and could barely put any pressure on it at all.

    The team doctor, Weldon Butler, ran his fingers up and down the leg, feeling for broken bones. Then he moved to the knee.

    Boobie watched the trail of those fingers, his eyes ablaze and his mouth slightly open. With the tiny voice of a child, he asked Butler how serious it was, how long he would be out.

    Butler just kept staring at his knee.

    "You might be out six, eight weeks," he said quietly, almost in a whisper.

    Boobie jolted upright, as if he was wincing from the force of a shock.

    "Oh f---, man!"

    "We won't know until we x-ray it. It may be worse if you don't stop moving that leg."

    "You can't be serious, man! You got to be full of s---, man!"

    Butler said nothing.

    "Man, I know you're not talking about any six to eight weeks."

    Boobie was placed on the red players' bench behind the sideline and his black high tops were slowly untied. The leg was placed in a black bag filled with ice to help stop the swelling. He turned to Trapper.

    "Is it gonna f--- up my season, man?" he asked in a terrified whisper.

    "I sure hope not," said Trapper.

    BUY THE BOOK
    Click here to buy H.G. Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights."
    But privately, Trapper's assessment was different. As a trainer he dealt with knee injuries all the time. His gut told him it was something serious, an injury that might prevent Boobie from ever playing football again the way he once had.

    Boobie lay down and several student managers took off his pads. In his uniform, with all the different pads he fancied, he looked a little like Robo Cop. But stripped of all the accoutrements, reduced to a gray shirt soaked with sweat, he had lost his persona. He looked like what he was -- an eighteen-year-old kid who was scared to death.

    "I won't be able to play college football, man," said Boobie in a whisper as the sounds of the game in the gauzy light -- the hits, the whistles of the officials, the yells of the coaches -- floated over him, had no effect on him anymore. "It's real important. It's all I ever wanted to do. I want to make it in the pros.

    "All I wanted to do," he repeated again. "Make it to the pros."

    When the injury occurred, L.V. could only watch with silent horror. He had stayed frozen in the stands, not wanting to accept it or confront it, hoping that it would go away after a few nervous moments. But there were too many people around Boobie, looking at his knee as if it were a priceless vase with a suddenly discovered crack that had just made it worthless.

    He had always feared that Boobie would be seriously injured one day, but not like this, not in a scrimmage that didn't count for a single statistic, not when he was about to have it all.

    He had pushed Boobie in football and prodded him and refused to let him quit. He did it because he loved him. And he also did it because he saw in his nephew the hopes, the possibilities, the dreams that he had never had in his own life when he had been a boy growing up in West Texas, back in a tiny town that looked like all the other tiny towns that dotted the plains like little bottlecaps, back in the place the whites liked to call N-----town.

    Click here to go on to Part 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.