Under the Lights in God’s Country, Part One

[As we move slowly toward tw0-a-day practices and the beginning of fall football, we will be publishing a multi-part fictional narrative that I wrote last year on the truly amazing spectacle that is Texas football.  It is a place where every Friday night in the autumn, as H.G. Bissinger so beautifully captured in his book, young athletes look to seize an opportunity for greatness as a wild-eyed sea of fans cheers them on.  There is little like it and I tried (less than successfully) to capture just a small bit of that here.

For a touch of academic context, the piece was an outgrowth of a poem by Jeffery McDaniel’s entitled, The Church of Michael Jordan, and a look at religious imagery in sports.  If you haven’t read McDaniel’s rumination on His Airness, you will like it (and I have reprinted it in a separate post on the site.]     

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They call the state of Texas “God’s Country.”  High school football is its religion.  On Friday evening under the lights, the great multitudes come to watch their Messiah. 

My grandfather was an elder in the congregation.  He preached that “whatever your hands find to do, do it will all your might.”  He made sure my hands found a football as I was laying in the crib.  He hath, my grandfather would extoll as I was starting to walk, come to change the trajectory of Lobos football and resurrect the town of White Oak itself.      

You have my forgiveness if you aren’t acquainted with White Oak.  It is barely a blip on a state map.  It is a small, sleepy town deep in the piney woods of East Texas.  It rode the boom and bust of the oil market.  And now, it is a place so far from boom that it is hard to even fathom the thought.

And yet, amid austerity, White Oak overfloweth with believers.  My grandfather was no lone prophet.  You chatted with them at Skinners when you were buying groceries for your Mom.  You heard the amen chorus at Sonic as you stopped for tater-tots and a slushie after a game.  You felt the laying on of hands at the barbershop on Saturday morning.

It was certainly true that White Oak no longer had the industry or wealth of Dallas or Houston or Austin.  It had, however, something more than all that. It had the game of football.  It had the faith that anything could happen for 48 minutes on Friday night.

The beginnings of my high school football journey were humbling ones.  I was five foot nothing and started out on the junior varsity (JV) squad.  They said I was too short to play big-time Texas football.  It must have been like the skeptics that muttered before Jesus turned water to wine.  Eight touchdown passes in my first JV game caused the non-believers to take note.  I dressed with the varsity squad the next week. 

For the last two years, I have gone onto the gridiron and preached the gospel. I have raised my hands high as my top receiver Brandon Belt galloped into the end zone time and again.  I have brought the cathedral that is Griffin Stadium to its collective feet.  I have listened approvingly as the masses “sing the song of praise.” 

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