ODESSA -- It’s been 30 years since the 1988 Permian Panthers football team took the field. The team made famous by Buzz Bissinger’s book “Friday Night Lights” faced enormous expectations.
“We were picked to win state,” running back James “Boobie” Miles said. “Anything else just wasn’t thought of.”
As chronicled in the book, Miles hurt his knee in a preseason scrimmage and was never the same. He was replaced that year by Chris Comer, who became a star in his own right.
Comer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 46. Ironically, his death coincides with the start of football season and the 30th anniversary of his legendary team.
“Chris, I just remember him always having that big smile on his face,” tight end Brian Chavez said. “I put him down as one of the best high school running backs ever to play in this state. It says a lot about his character how humble he was, even though how great he was as a running back.”
“He was fun loving,” Miles said. “He got along with everybody. A great guy. A great running back.”
Although the 1988 squad is the most famous Permian team, they did not win a state championship, and the playoff semi-final loss to Dallas Carter still stings.
“That’s one thing that if I could just change,” Chavez said. “That we won that game and were able to play for a state championship. 30 years later, I’m 47 years old and it’s still something that bugs me.”
When the book “Friday Night Lights” came out, it was unpopular with the people of Odessa for portraying the community as racist and football crazed.
“People try to say that it portrayed the town in an ugly way, and that it wasn’t truthful,” Chavez said. “Well it might have portrayed Odessa in an ugly way, but it was truthful.”
The former teammates have differing opinions on how much progress Odessa has made over the last 30 years.
“Definitely see less of the racist attitudes,” Chavez said. “You see a lot more mixing of the cultures than you used to in the past. Where it used to be pretty segregated, I see Odessa as a bit more congealed.”
“They have to fix the Southside,” Miles said. “I grew up there. I’m not saying everything is everything, but it's even worse there now. I don't think they even have street sweepers come through and clean the streets there.”
Although other Texas high school programs have copied Permian’s methods, former players say the MOJO mystique still sets the Panthers apart.
“Permian it’s all around you,” Chavez said. “You can’t get around that. They don’t shove it down your throat. It’s an institution. And the kids growing up, when they’re in elementary school, you know what Permian is, and you know what they’ve done in the past.”