Toe to Toe: Friday Night Lights

America loves its Friday nights on the gridiron. Small towns showing up to the stands in droves as they cheer on their teams of young boys with big dreams. It’s quintessential Americana. It loves it so much that, when a nonfiction book was published about it (along with many other sociological themes) in 1989, a movie by the same name premiered 15 years later and a TV show two years after that. They both starred the great Connie Britton, so you know they have reach and power.

Yes, Friday Night Lights and everything it represents and demonstrates has become ingrained in American culture. Clearly, we’re all a little obsessed with high school football. But with three types of media focused on this theme, which one does Big Little Literature love most?

Although I’ve also watched the television series, that was five years ago, and my memory necessitates more time to relive the show than the movie. So we’re going to narrow our focus a bit. Friday Night Lights, it’s time to go toe to toe: book versus movie.

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Don’t Let my Dreams Run Dry

I very distinctly remember a Friday night when I was 11 years old like it was yesterday. The cross-town rival was playing my sister’s high school’s football team on a rainy, dreary, and cold night in late fall. I went to the game with my dad and brother, and we along with my sister had been talking up this game all week. This was the year Herculaneum High School was going to beat the Festus Tigers under those Friday night lights.

Due to the nasty weather, the game was delayed. My father, trying to be a responsible parent, said we should leave after waiting for what felt like hours for it to begin. Dressed in ponchos yet still drenched, we reached the parking lot when we heard buzzers and beeps announcing that play would begin. The three of us looked at each other, smiled, and said, “Let’s do it!” We ran back to the bleachers to watch the Blackcats pounce the Tigers. I didn’t go to either school but could still feel the excitement wash over me as the rain poured down and the ‘cats clenched the W.

The year was 2003, and I was obsessed with Blackcat football and all of the “hot” players on the team that year. I seriously wrote their names on my notebook as if someday I would have a chance with one of them. (Trust me, I too laugh at this now.) But these types of memories are the ones that build up football programs with an urgency, power, and nostalgia that other sports and other aspects of small-time life just cannot compete with. And this was with small schools in the Midwest. Can you imagine the fervor if it belonged in a West Texas community? You don’t have to because H.G. Bissinger gives us exactly that in one of the best sports books ever written: Friday Night Lights.

Friday Night Lights

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Eye of the Tiger

My Instagram bio reads “Book blogger | Sports enthusiast and cat lover | Travel addict | #MizzouMade.” Basically, I was destined to read Gary Pinkel’s autobiography. After all, this is the man who led the Mizzou football program that created that very hashtag in my bio.

Some of my best college memories stem from football games at the ZOU — and I don’t just mean from the pregame. I really got into games, sometimes so much so that my moods directly correlated to the team’s success. And even though I no longer live in Missouri, I still try to follow the team as much as possible.

While reading his book, I was excited to relive some of those memories through Coach Pinkel’s perspective. I also loved reading about his personal journey long before he moved to Columbia, Mo. and became the winningest coach in university history. However, I couldn’t help wondering if I enjoyed his book simply because of the nostalgia it gave me. On deeper reflection, The 100-Yard Journey didn’t contain the best writing; it certainly won’t win any awards. Maybe this is a book only Mizzou and/or football fans can truly enjoy. Well so be it.

I’ve always said good books can transport you to another place and time. When they take you back to a fun and important time in your personal life, they get bonus points — even if the book itself doesn’t blow you away.

Gary Pinkel

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