I despise “Friday Night Lights” the television series, and I’ve never seen an episode. The show garners my disdain for two reasons. One, in my vainest moments Googling “Dillon Friday” becomes difficult with fictional Dillon High School serving as the setting for “Friday Night Lights.” And two, the series borrows its title from H.G. Bissinger’s American classic as well as the equally good movie of the same name.
Too often I find myself tuning out conversations over “FNL” when the subjects involved swoon over Taylor Kitsch instead of Boobie Miles. For those who read Friday Night Lights and watched the movie at a certain time in their lives, that time being 17 years old in the middle of a stress-ridden high school athletic career, the works resonate so strongly that they can’t in good conscious watch the eponymous television show.
While I’ve leaf-marked a dozen or more of Bissinger’s wonderfully crafted pages, it’s the movie that remains firmly entrenched in my memory. Boobie, the Greek god, comes to life as children race after him down the street. His quick jukes, fierce bursts down the sideline, swift cuts and bruising stiff arms paint him as the second coming of Barry Sanders. And he can pass!
Miles is the center of the story as not only the best player but also the one who best exemplifies the fleeting nature of high school sports. When he falls in agony in the late stages of a blowout in the first game, we know that Boobie Miles will cease to exist. The legend will live on through mystic anecdotes and melancholic “what if” conjectures that still haunt the West Texas plains. As the poet A.E. Housman said, “Now you will not swell the rout of lads that wore their honors out runners whom renown outran and the name died before the man.”
Behind all of this, the rise and fall of Boobie Miles, lurks a character whom we all can identify with. He is waiting for a chance. He’s quick to admit to reporters that he’s “Boobie’s backup backup … third string.” His shame overwhelms him at times. We see him scribbling away with a sharpie on his white Adidas cleats in an attempt to shade them black. “God made black beautiful,” Miles boasts within earshot of his backup’s backup. “God made Boobie beautiful.”
The player in question, Chris Comer, epitomizes the dichotomy that defines the characters of “Friday Night Lights.” There are equal parts vulnerability and invincibility in these young athletes. Their play on the grid iron determines which part we see. Comer, in a twist of irony, gets his chance when he fails to enter the game because he’s lost his helmet. Boobie happily fills in and suffers his debilitating knee injury.
Comer eventually succeeds Miles to become a star in his own right. We see him not only darting down the sidelines and leaping over defensive linemen, but also swaggering through the hallways pointing to admirers near and far.
And yet as the new tailback takes his licks against Dallas Carter in the movie’s climactic scenes, I can’t help but see him still sitting in the background with sharpie in hand. Comer is the guy we root for because we’ve seen him humbled. He equals Boobie’s talent without mimicking his hubristic braggadocio.
The epilogue tells us Comer leads Odessa-Permian to a state championship the following year.
Why bring all of this up now? For one, it’s football season and “Friday Night Lights” remains the best football movie of the past 20 years. The book, quite frankly, is a first-ballot inductee to the sportswriting hall of fame.
More sobering, though, Lee Thompson Young, the man who played Chris Comer in the film adaptation, killed himself yesterday. You may remember him as the Famous Jett Jackson or Johnny’s best friend in the Disney Channel classic “Johnny Tsunami.” But I can’t picture Thompson without that white 42 on the night-black Permian jersey. His performance won him no awards, but it forever placed him as one of sports cinema’s great sympathetic characters.
Rest in peace Lee Thompson Young, and prayers to your family.