By Steve Spiewak
"You ready for Midland Lee, coach?"
These exact words, spoken by a booster to coach Gary Gaines in the 2004 movie Friday Night Lights, no doubt represent a timeless query addressed annually to every Odessa Permian coach.
For the people in Permian, the mandatory answer, without fail, must be "Yes, sir."
In a part of West Texas where there is not much besides oil and football, the Lee-Permian game represents more than a mere athletic competition. It is a community rallying point, a symbol of cohesive spirit, and a source of great pride for the victor.
"Football is everything here," said Yolanda, an Odessa firefighter whose daughter attends Permian.
Football, indeed, is everything, especially if the dedication of both schools' fans are any indication. One Lee fan at practice Monday said he had followed the team since the late 70's. A long time Odessa resident, Gordon Gaines, said he has followed Permian since the school's inception in 1959.
"A blood rivalry" was how he described the game.
Tatum Hubbard, a Permian graduate and anchor at CBS 7 Odessa, said the rivalry is on par with those of collegiate proportions.
"I didn't go to a big college, so for me, it's like a college rivalry," she said.
Travis Recek, sports anchor at ABC 2 in Odessa, grew up in Austin, a city orientated around University of Texas college football, but said that he was still very much aware of the Permian-Lee rivalry across the state. Having covered both teams for four years, he has gotten to see the rivalry up close.
"It is unlike anything you can imagine," Recek said. "It's a rivalry that draws fans because these have always been the best two programs, success wise, in West Texas."
As such, the rivalry transcends what takes place on the football field. Show up at the Music City Mall in Odessa decked out in Midland Lee attire, and you're likely to draw stares and elicit whispers. Drop by a Midland Lee practice in a black polo shirt, like the one a Permian coach might wear, and you're liable to get treated like a suspected spy during the Cold War.
Over 20,000 people are expected to pour into Ratcliff Stadium Friday night. In the interim between when most fans get off work (5 p.m.) and kick off (7 p.m.), the parking lot will serve as the setting of a rite of passage from work week to weekend. The tailgating by the masses will undoubtedly be massive. Roughly 1 out of every 10 residents of both Midland and Odessa will be there.
What is perhaps most striking about the rivalry is how unchanged it seems to be despite the deluge of media coverage. Midland Lee fans, whose school was featured prominently and victoriously in Friday Night Lights, don't like talking about the movie. The same is true for Permian fans, many of whom don't like the book or the movie.
One can easily surmise that if this game were played in a sealed bubble with no media coverage, there would be the same vehement passion by both teams. And 20,000 people would manage to find a way to get in to cheer the Rebels and the Panthers.
A quote by the Panthers star quarterback sums up what significance of it all.
"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else except Odessa Permian," said Taylor Byrd.
For this Friday night`s Permian home game, everyone in Midland and Odessa, including this writer, agrees.