DESSA, Tex. -- High school football is more than a game in Texas. It's a religion. Sun columnist Eric Francis recently travelled to the Lone Star State and visited two towns where high school football is an all-consuming passion: Galena Park and Odessa, the setting for the current box-office hit Friday Night Lights. Watch for Eric's reports daily -- only in the Sun.
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The pride involved with being a Permian Panther fan is illustrated on virtually every city block of this West Texas oil town.
Whether it's a storefront sign urging the team on, a stop sign painted Permian colours (black and white) or a simple car sticker, there's little doubt the city's identity is still linked to the gridiron.
That said, no one is prouder of the school's football tradition than the current crop of players who take centrestage here every Friday night.
"I put on Permian colours with great pride every day," said senior centre Eddie Harmon, 18.
"It represents me, my family, my town. Permian football is something I've wanted to do since I was seven or eight. It's a dream come true. You grow up thinking about it and you're out there with 25,000 fans screaming 'Mo jo, Mo jo' -- it couldn't be any better. I get chills thinking about it."
And while the city's most talented players practise for years in an effort to revel in the storied lights of Ratliff Stadium, the parents are every bit as anxious to have their kids do them proud. Out front of every varsity player's house is a three-ft. high team logo with their name and number on it courtesy of the booster club.
"I've been looking forward to seeing him play for so long," said Gary Harmon, standing out front of his house alongside Eddie, wife Cindy and their dog Shadow who is, not coincidentally, Permian colours.
"He's smaller than everyone he faces so he doesn't win all the battles but he wins more than his fair share. I get chills when I see them run through that sign. It's like an extension. To see the bruises and blood and sweat ... I'm just so proud. He's my hero."
Adds mom quietly: "Mine, too."
You can imagine how words like that can make a young man feel.
Of course, with the status they're afforded as local heroes comes scrutiny generally afforded pro athletes, making the school's recent losing record a sticky subject.
"People talk to me about it in church all the time as to what happened," said Eddie, whose club is winless in division play.
"The week after Friday Night Lights was released, we were on national TV, so people think we should be perfect and we're not."
Even Dad has a hard time swallowing some of the criticism the teenaged Panthers have faced, especially on odessapermian.com, where locals have been relentless of late.
"It's pretty sad -- the kids are getting ripped," said Gary. "This is one of the toughest districts in the state of Texas. This is their time to be under the lights and some of the things people are saying is unfair, especially after seeing how hard they've worked."
Still, it's all part of a gig Harmon and his teammates wouldn't trade for the world, especially the week of home games when tradition dictates each cheerleader showers a designated player with gifts of all kinds and the school glorifies them with a pep rally.
Still, as Eddie is quick to point out, you have to stay grounded.
"There are a few people in the old days who would have put football over God but I never will," said Eddie.
"Football is extracurricular but God is something you have to have in your life."
Apparently, so is football in the Harmon household where two of Eddie's sisters came from Colorado and Arizona just to see him play as a senior in the cross-town rivalry.
"We had a daughter in the band in '98 and we lost," said Cindy of the cross-town rivalry with Odessa High.
"Eddie is our last child, so we've got to win."
Now that's pressure.
No, that's Permian football.