People in Texas enjoy football in three levels: the high school level, the college level, and the professional level. In a 2008 ESPN article, the state is described as “football-mad Texas,” and the importance of the sport is evident in how “the media designate ample amounts of time and space covering the sport.” In fact, the sport is given so much importance that Bill Clinton’s impeachment did not even receive the same amount of coverage as Permian’s loss to Midland Lee during the high school state championship in 1988. This kind of craze permeates the three levels of football that Texans enjoy.
National Football League (NFL)
Texas has two teams in the National Football League (NFL), the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans.
The Dallas Cowboys, dubbed as “America’s Team”, have won five NFL championships, putting it in second place for the most championships won after the Pittsburgh Steelers, which have six. (The San Francisco 49ers have also won five championships.) The Dallas Cowboys first won in 1972, while its last win was back in 1996, about twenty years ago today. As of writing, the team has won nine games in a row during the 2016 NFL season. Critics think the team has a chance to win the championships again if they continue to perform as it is for the rest of the season. Because of their winning streak, ticket prices and TV ratings of their games have increased. Secondary tickets are averaging $416 each, and their recent game with the Pittsburgh Steelers has garnered twenty-nine million viewers.
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
The Baylor Bears, the Houston Cougars, the North Texas Mean Green, the Rice Owls, the SMU Mustangs, the TCU Horned Frogs, the Texas Longhorns, the Texas A&M Aggies, the Texas State Bobcats, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the UTEP Miners, and the UTSA Roadrunners—these are all Division I Football Bowl Subdivision teams in Texas. Of the hundred and twenty-five schools playing in the FBS, the state has the most number of football teams .
Meanwhile, in the Football Championship Subdivision, Texas has eight teams: the Abilene Christian Wildcats, the Houston Baptist Huskies, the Incarnate Word Cardinals, the Lamar Cardinals, the Prairie View A&M Panthers, the Sam Houston State Bearkats, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, and the Texas Southern Tigers. Tied in first place for the most number of teams in the FCS, Pennsylvania and New York also have eight teams.
The mere number of teams that Texas has in Division I football shows how important and beloved the sport is in the state. And the college football craze is actually proven by how much money colleges make from their teams. According to the Texas Tribune, the Houston Cougars, the North Texas Mean Green, the Texas Longhorns, the Texas A&M Aggies, the Texas State Bobcats, the Texas Tech Raiders, the UTEP Miners, and the UTSA Roadrunners aggregately earned $300 million dollars in 2015. In comparison, Division I men’s basketball, the second highest earning sport in Texas, only earned $39 million.
High School Football
In an interview with ABC News, Bob Shipley, coach of the Burnet Bulldogs, a division 3-A high school football team in Texas, said, “When people read the obituary column of the local paper to see if a season ticket holder has passed away, you know you’re talking about serious football.” The article, appropriately titled “In Texas, High School Football Is King,” Texans attempt to explain why high school football is so important in their state.
Bennie Cotton, a 71-year-old superfan of the sport who has seen over two thousand games in his life, said that high school football brings together everyone in the community and gives them a reason to be proud. “To those people, football is NOT the Dallas Cowboys,” he told interviewer Bob Brown. “Football is the school in the town where they live. They close down the towns for a high school football game.” This latter statement is portrayed repeatedly in Friday Night Lights, both the TV show and the movie. Bob Brown added:
And in a state where everything seems oversized, mythicized, and romanticized, high school football bestows a tradition on a town that it doesn’t have to share with anyplace else. It’s as personal as it gets.
And their fascination with the sport isn’t necessarily about how great a team is, or about how many touchdowns the players can make in a game, or about how many state championships they have won. Stephen McGee, quarterback of the Burnet Bulldogs, said:
We really don’t have a whole bunch of incredible football players. We have a bunch of guys that love the game and that work hard. That are willing to sacrifice their summers and their springs and to go out there in a 100-degree heat and play football and love doing it.
Perhaps this kind of passion is what Texans love most about high school football. It’s about a team of young men who are doing the best they can, giving all that they can, and sacrificing whatever they can to make their communities proud. It’s about that energy reverberating from the field to the crowd, and vice versa. It’s the sense of community, just like Bernie Cotton said. Perhaps this is the fire that ignites Friday night lights.
Lastly, the most important role of football in Odessa, Texas is giving it a sense of community and pride. It has been repeatedly discussed that high school football is more than just a game for these people; it’s a part of their tradition. It’s a part of their routine.
An associate professor of legal ethics and ethical studies at Fordham University’s school of business told Mark Koba, “If you think about where people are on Friday nights in areas like the South and Midwest, they are at their local high school football game.”
And because it’s a tradition, parades and parties are organized for winning teams. It becomes an affair for the entire town. Just take a look at what happened in Friday Night Lights after the Dillon Panthers won the state championship. Players become local celebrities. The entire town basks in the glory of their win.