Bissinger followed the team for the entire 1988 season. However, the book also dealt with—or alluded to—a number of secondary political and social issues existing in Odessa, all of which shared ties to the Permian Panthers football team. These included socioeconomic disparity; racism; segregation (and desegregation); and poverty.
The coach, Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), was constantly in the hot seat. Tied to the successes and failure of the coach and the team in general were the conflicts the players struggled with on and off the gridiron. The coach overused his star player, running backJames "Boobie" Miles. (Derek Luke), who was seriously injured (he tore his ACL, missed the playoffs, and had a limp for the rest of his life). When this happened, sports radio shows were flooded with calls for Gaines' resignation. Miles' once-arrogant attitude vanished as he saw his once-promising chance of playing big-time college football disappear, and he questioned his future after he noticed his not-so promising academic standing. While recuperating on his uncle's veranda he observed the garbage collectors doing their rounds, got a glimpse of a different future, and burst into tears.
One of the themes of the movie depicted the coach as a father-type figure for the players. For example:
Quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) struggled with being able to play consistently.
Fullback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) had a rocky relationship with his alcoholic and abusive father (Tim McGraw). Billingsley silently endured the abuse from his father, who won a state championship at Permian only to find himself unable to get into college and stuck working a dead-end job.
Third-string running back Chris Comer (Lee Thompson Young), who replaced the injured Miles, attempted to get rid of his fear of being hit and getting injured, made worse by seeing his predecessor's season-ending injury. Comer's obsession with fame and recognition also came at a high price that he was at first not ready to pay.
Safety Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez) was easily the smartest player on the team and the most confident in his future after high school football. He ends up being accepted into Harvard College and Texas Tech Law School.
Coach Gaines triumphed and struggled with winning football games and connecting with his players numerous times during their tumultuous season. His job depended on the Panthers' making the playoffs, and his team was in a three-way tie with two other teams at the end of the regular season. Under Texas rules for ties, the tiebreaker was a coin-toss. Permian got a spot. Meanwhile, after Don Billingsley's father drunkenly threw away his championship ring, he broke down and confessed that his failures in life caused him to push his son harshly, pointing out that he wanted his son to at least have one big moment of triumph before dealing with the real world. The team made it to the finals, where they narrowly lost to powerhouse Dallas Carter High School. The movie ended with the coach removing the departing seniors from the depth chart on his wall. Notably, the depth chart has "Case" at quarterback. This referred to Permian's real-life backup quarterback in 1988, Stoney Case, who led Permian, along with Chris Comer, to the 5A state title the following year, and still later make it to the NFL.
Championship game officials: Tim Crowley, Gary Vaught, Lee Mack Turner
In the movie, Boobie Miles was depicted as one of the team's three captains, but that honor was held by Ivory Christian, Mike Winchell and Brian Chavez in real life.
In the movie, some of the players' numbers and positions were changed: Boobie Miles was #45 and played tailback in the movie, but in the book he was playing fullback (while Don Billingsley was the tailback) and #35. In the movie, Brian Chavez was the #4 strong safety, while he was the #85 tight end in the book, and Ivory Christian was a defensive end and wore #90, while he was the #62 middle ("Mike") linebacker in the book. At the beginning of the film, as the camera panned over Coach Gaines' depth chart, 'Miles' name was listed under the FB tag. Chris Comer was also the backup fullback in the book, not a third-string tailback. One of the athletic directors in the stadium booth said, "I think he's a sophomore", when Comer was a junior at the time. Comer also wore #45 in the real season, but in the movie he wore #42. Alan Wyles was depicted as a wide receiver when he was the placekicker.
Don Billingsley's father Charlie was depicted in the movie as having won a state championship. In reality, as a junior, the 1968 Permian team lost in the finals.
The regular season
In the movie, the team was depicted as practicing in full pads and with full contact on the first day of practice. Under rules of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the governing body for Texas public school sports, teams cannot use pads or hit until the 4th day of practice (however, in the deleted scenes included in the DVD, a non-pad practice was shown).
A Permian booster was heard toasting Coach Gaines' second season as Permian's head coach. It was his third.
Boobie Miles, in the book, injured his leg by getting his foot caught on the Astroturf during a pre-season scrimmage against Amarillo Palo Duro at Jones Stadium in Lubbock. In the movie, he was tackled by two players at the knee during a blowout non-district game at Ratliff Stadium.
In the movie, the top-ranked Permian Panthers defeated the hapless Marshall Bulldogs in a non-district game. In real life, the third-ranked Marshall Mavericks (whose colors are red and white, not purple and gold) defeated fourth-ranked Permian 13-12. In the movie, the game was the season opener and played on a Friday night in Odessa. In real life, it was Permian's second game of the season, and played at Maverick Stadium in Marshall on a Saturday afternoon. Permian's football team chartered a jet for the 500+ mile trip from Odessa to Marshall, spawning controversy on the cost of the trip. Played before a crowd of more than 12,000 fans at Maverick Stadium, the game was on a searing September afternoon where the temperature topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 °C). The footage shown in the movie was from a game against the Midland High Bulldogs, who weren't mentioned in the movie. Permian defeated the Dawgs 42-0 in district play, but the two teams ended up in a three-way tie along with Midland Lee for the district title.
In the movie, district play began in week 2. In the real regular season, district play began in week 4.
In the movie, Permian defeated "North Shore Galena" in a mid-season (presumably district) game. In reality, North Shore High School was within the Galena Park School District[Galena Park, Texas|Galena Park], over 500 miles (800 km) southeast of Odessa. Although North Shore and Permian have both been 5A football powerhouses, they have never played. North Shore did not start seeing football success until the mid 1990s.
In reality, the three teams tied for best district record were Permian, Midland Lee, and Midland High, all with 5-1 district records. In the movie, Permian and Lee were joined not by Midland but by Abilene Cooper, and each team had two district losses. The tie breaking coin flip was held at a truck stop outside of Midland, and Midland High lost (Cooper in the movie), so Permian and Lee went on. Midland High's missing the playoffs was poignant as it had not been to the playoffs since 1951 and did not get back to post-season play until 2002.
A Permian player was shown with coach Gaines at the coin toss. In reality, no players from any of the three schools were allowed at the coin toss. All of Permian's players were on the team bus returning from the game that evening at San Angelo Central. Permian assistant coach Mike Belew drove with Gaines from San Angelo to the site of the coin toss.
In a few scenes, players were shown wearing Under Armour apparel and facemask shields, although in 1988, Under Armour and visors hadn't been invented yet. (Under Armour founder Kevin Plank was in high school in 1988.) The book says they wore green visors, which are now outlawed for high school and college teams.
In the movie, the annual duel against Permian's archrival Midland Lee was portrayed as Lee having a handy lead throughout the game with Permian never having a shot at the victory. In real life, Lee had to come from behind with a late-game touchdown to win the game 22-21.
Permian's first opponent in the playoffs was Amarillo Tascosa and not Dallas Jesuit as in the movie. In 1988, Texas Public Schools (such as Permian, Carter, and Tascosa) and private schools (such as Jesuit) competed in separate leagues with separate playoffs. Jesuit was not allowed to join the previously all-public school UIL until 2003, starting football competition in 2004. Dallas Jesuit and Strake Jesuit of Houston were the only private schools who currently play in the UIL, the rest competing in leagues such as TAPPS and the SPC. Also, with the district setup at that time, it would have been impossible for Permian to play a team from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex until the third round for the playoffs. Nowadays, Permian could play Fort Worth-area teams in the first round of the playoffs, but still could not play Jesuit until round 3. Permian played Dallas Jesuit in Odessa during the regular season in 1988, winning 48-2. Jesuit's only points came on a missed-PAT return, which was a rule instituted that year (the defensive conversion was not allowed in high school football under National Federation of State High School Associations rules, but Texas played by NCAA rules). Jesuit's helmet was shown as white and orange with a sort of wildcat's head logo on it, but in real life they are solid gold without a logo.
In the movie, it was said that Carter was the state's top-ranked team, when Carter was never ranked higher than No. 3 in the Associated Press poll.
Carter played "Hays" High School in the playoffs, which was depicted as wearing green and white and nicknamed the Rams. The real Jack C. Hays High School, located 15 minutes south of Austin in Buda, used red, white, and blue as its colors, and their nickname was the Rebels. Hays was a Class 4A school in 1988 and did not become 5A until 2000. Hays was in the movie because the makers filmed crowd shots at Hays High during a Rebels home game against the Austin Westlake Chaparrals, another team depicted as a Permian playoff victim.
Permian was depicted as playing "San Angelo" in the quarterfinal round. There were two high schools in the San Angelo Independent School District; until 1998, San Angelo Central High School, the district's only 5A school had been in the same district as Permian (having since been transferred, for football only, to the district with Lubbock and Amarillo schools), and could only have played Permian in the quarterfinal round (owing to the structure of UIL playoffs) if they had qualified. However, Central finished 5th in the district that year, and as only two teams from each district qualified in 1988, Permian and Central did not play in the 1988 playoffs. Instead, Permian played Arlington Lamar in the quarterfinals.
North Shore in Galena Park ISD was referred to as North Shore Galena. Its official UIL name was Galena Park North Shore. In 1988, North Shore had yet to make the playoffs.
On the playoff brackets it shows just the word "Baytown". The team in the playoffs was Baytown Lee.
Permian vs. Carter
Since 1982, the UIL Class 5A football playoffs have had six rounds (though a second, parallel playoff bracket of five rounds was added in 1990, later also expanded to six rounds in 2006), so while Permian played Dallas Carter in the fifth round, it was a semi-final and not a final. In the Texas playoffs, a team from North or Western Texas always plays a team from Southern Texas in the final, so the Carter vs Permian final was not possible. The real-life final featured Carter versus Converse Judson (which defeated Permian in the 1995 state championship). The Carter-Permian game was played in front of 10,000 people in a heavy downpour at The University of Texas at Austin's Memorial Stadium, not in front of 55,000 in the Astrodome in Houston. While the game in the movie was a high-scoring affair (34-28), the real score was 14-9 in favor of Carter. In real life, Permian held a 9-7 lead for most of the game and Carter made the dramatic fourth quarter comeback to win. On the last play of the game, Winchell threw the ball incomplete, rather than running it himself close to the goal line.
The meeting between officials from Permian and Carter at the Midland airport occurred the Sunday prior to the game. Not shown in the movie was the Carter officials changing their minds about a home site from Texas Stadium in Irving to the Cotton Bowl within the Dallas city limits. Under UIL rules, if the schools cannot agree to a neutral site, each side picks a "home" site and a "neutral" site, and two coin tosses are conducted. The first was to determine whether a "home" or "neutral" site will be used, and the second to determine which team's site will be used. After a tense battle between the sides, they agreed to play the game at Austin.
In the movie, Gaines suggested at first suggests San Antonio as a potential neutral site, which would have meant playing the game at Alamo Stadium, since the Alamodome did not open until 1993. The other neutral site suggestion in the movie was College Station, presumably meaning Kyle Field at Texas A&M.
The revocation of Carter's state championship following their use of an academically ineligible player was never mentioned, nor was the prolonged legal battle that Carter went through to enable them to play in the playoffs. Officially, the 1988 state champions were Converse Judson, which lost 31-14 in the final to Carter.
The school and the city
Permian was portrayed in the movie as a single large high school in a small, one-horse town in West Texas. In reality, Odessa was a city of nearly 100,000 people at the time of the events portrayed in the movie, and part of a metropolitan area of nearly 250,000 combining the populations of Midland and Ector counties. (The quaint downtown shown in the trailer for the movie was Manhattan, Kansas.) Also, Permian was (and still is) only one of two large Class 5A high schools in Odessa. The other and first high school in the city, Odessa High School (mascot: the Bronchos), was never mentioned in the movie, despite the fact that they have played Permian every year, as the two schools have been in the same UIL district since Permian opened in 1959 and shared Ratliff Stadium with Permian. An entire chapter in the book was devoted to the "Civil War" between the schools.
In the movie, Odessa was portrayed as being a mostly Anglo town with a sizable African-American population and virtually no Hispanics. In 1988, out of the almost 100,000 people that lived in Odessa, one-third were Hispanic while African-Americans made up only 5% of the population.
Ratliff Stadium was depicted as the location for Permian football practices. In reality, the team practiced mostly on campus, and the stadium, used by both Permian and Odessa, was on the outskirts of town in a fairly unpopulated area about three miles (five km) away from the Permian High campus. It was also unlikely that children would be playing touch football near the stadium, as depicted in the movie, as few houses were nearby at that time. The area around the stadium has grown dramatically since then (which caused an anachronism in the movie—the houses seen near the stadium did not yet exist in 1988).
While Ratliff Stadium has had artificial turf since its opening, in 1988 it had the original AstroTurf, not the modern FieldTurf surface seen on the stadium in the film.
Former NFL wide receiver Roy Williams (a Permian alumnus) had a cameo in the movie as an assistant coach for Midland Lee, Permian's arch-rival.
Some sequences during the state playoffs showed highlights from high school football games in Texas. In one of those highlights, NFL Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib can be seen.
Ty Law played a wide receiver for Dallas Carter, the team Permian played in the movie's state championship game (as noted earlier, the real Permian-Carter game was a semifinal). He wore jersey #2, his last name was Graf, and he caught a one-handed touchdown pass.
The real James "Boobie" Miles played a Permian assistant coach in the film. Although he has no lines, he was seen several times. In the locker room scene at halftime of the state championship game, he was seen standing next to the fictional "Boobie" Miles as Coach Gaines gives his speech.
Reviews of the film were highly positive. The film received an 81% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 168 reviews, and the consensus stated: "An acute survey of the football-obsessed heartland that succeeds as both a stirring drama and a rousing sports movie." The film also has a score of 70/100 on Metacritic, based on 35 reviews.
While the residents of Odessa held a negative reception of the book, they eagerly anticipated the release of the film.