My Twenty Years Under Friday Night LightsPosted by admin - 16/11/12 at 04:11 pm
Last night, a long-standing part of my life ended.
For the last twenty years, I’ve spent fall Friday nights at football stadiums all over East Texas doing play-by-play for various radio stations. I’ve been a part of more than three hundred broadcasts over that time. Our team, Jacksonville, was down 34-2 to the #2 team in the state, and in the fourth quarter it started to sink in that this was it. There was no comeback left, and their playoff run was over.
That meant mine was, too.
Last night was my last game in East Texas, as I probably won’t be here when next season comes around. I know I have a lot of friends who aren’t from here and have heard a lot about this region’s love of football. Let me tell you, it’s all true. It’s virtually impossible to overstate it.
If you’ve seen the TV show Friday Night Lights, you don’t get it. Go watch the movie. You still won’t get it, so then go read the book. The book is still only half of it, but it’s a start. There are stories so powerful and true, no Hollywood writer would ever dream of trying to tell them.
How big is it? My home town of 6000 people has a new stadium that seats more than that, and a video replay board that’s as big as my house. True story. As part of one of my writing gigs, I set up an interview with Dallas’ Alex Stein, a contestant on ABC’s reality show “The Glass House.” I called him and when he saw my area code, he knew I was in East Texas, so we spent the first ten minutes of the interview talking about high school football.
In that twenty years on radio and TV I’ve seen guys who went on to play major college football, and some all the way to the NFL. I’ve been in Adrian Peterson’s house when he was a teenager. I’ve seen supremely talented athletes who moved on, and hard-working kids who grew up to be good men and fathers of athletes I’d wind up seeing on the field, too. I watched my home town win a state championship at the last high school game ever at Texas Stadium, and I saw them win another at Cowboys Stadium. It’s been a Hell of a ride, and there wasn’t a single Friday night that ever felt like work.
Is it too much at times? Of course, but that’s what makes it fun. Friday nights, the whole town is at the stadium. Everybody in the school is on the team, or in the band, the cheerleaders, drill team, or any of the other groups. It’s an incredible atmosphere that has to be seen to be believed.
And last night, I got choked up at the end of the game. No shame there, either. I realized it was my last moment to do something I had loved, and had been proud to be a part of.
Once upon a time I was a punk kid of twenty-three, and breaking into the business. I would do any game, any where, for anyone. I did high school games Friday night, then college games on Saturday, and drove hundreds of miles to get any experience I could, and loved every minute of it. It’s been a part of my life for twenty years since then through good times and bad.
And so last night, for the first time in 306 games, I did something I’ve never done before. I got choked up. Emotion finally got the best of me.
Thank you. For everyone whose games I called, for every mom and dad and grandmother who thanked me, for every booster club member who tossed me a burger fresh off the grill, and for every coach who took the time to work with me. For every press box I ever worked in (and on top of, on occasion), for every broadcast partner I’ve ever worked with, and for every radio station owner who trusted me with a bag of equipment guaranteed to work at least half of the time.
Thank you for letting me be a part of Friday nights. It’s truly been an honor to get to share those experiences with you.
PS: Just to complete the experience, I ate a crappy meal at a gas station around midnight last night on the way home. It’s a part of the magic, kids.