Thursday Night Lights

I met one of my literary heroes last night.  On a hot Thursday evening in North Texas I made the trek into the heart of everything that’s wrong with the city of Dallas to meet Harry Gerard (H.G.) Bissinger III.  You might know him as Buzz.  You definitely know him as that guy who wrote the Friday Night Lights book that spawned the movie that led to the television series.  He was in town to promote his new book Father’s Day which chronicles a cross country trip he recently took with his disabled son Zach.  Zach suffered brain damage during birth as a result of oxygen deprivation from being the second-born twin.  By all accounts the book is great and I planned on purchasing it when I got there, but I also brought along my trusty first edition copy of Friday Night Lights.

If you’ve spent any time on my site, you know by now that I am perhaps the biggest sports dork in North America.  My love of stats, obscure players, and any and all sports knows no bounds.  I am perhaps the only person highly considering ditching the NBA and the NFL to become a die-hard European club soccer fan.  I can sustain highly informed conversations on any sport not named NASCAR.  More than anything in life, with the exception of my soon-to-be wife and family, I love a great sports story.  This doesn’t just happen overnight though.  It takes years of reading and dreaming and debating.  In no way do I ever claim to be an expert about sports, but a dork?  Absolutely.

In the moments before Bissinger arrived, I started to wonder why exactly I was there in the first place.  Why did Buzz Bissinger matter to me?  Why would I venture from the comforts of my air-conditioned apartment into the snootiest area of the snootiest city in the United States to get the chance to meet a writer face-to-face?  Why was I scared?

I texted my fiancee and some of my fellow sports dorks to ask if they had any advice on how best to approach him.  The reason?  If they say nothing else about Bissinger, let it be known that he is intense.  Incredibly intense.  Overwhelmingly intense.  Intense to the point that it can be scary.  Watch him confront former Deadspin editor Will Leitch (another one of this sports dork’s heroes) about his feelings towards sports blogs [skip ahead to the 3:00 mark]:

He arrived casually enough.  By my clock he was six minutes late to the 7:00 start time.  He rode up the escalator with a woman I assumed was his publishing agent and quickly came over to the designated area.  He successfully pulled off a “look.”  He wore the patented black blazer he dons in almost every single television appearance along with a blue and white striped button down, damn near white denim pants, and pointy black leather boots.  I felt his presence immediately and my internal nervous meter went from about a five to a 100 on a scale of one to ten.  The obnoxious garlic smell of a fellow audience member’s dinner perpetuated my anxiety.  There he was though.  It was now too late to flee to one of the nearby aisles and spy on the event from behind the safety of an oak bookshelf.

Did I mention that only four other people in the entire DFW metroplex bothered to come meet this man and purchase his book?    A setup that originally began with three long rows of chairs looking up to a podium was quickly rearranged to a semi-circle so that Mr. Bissinger could face us and interact with us on a personal level.  Yours truly got stuck in the chair directly across from him, separated by no more than three feet, right in his sight line.

It was right at the moment before he began that it hit me.

A typical person, when asked to explain their emotions to others, often says something to the effect of: “words cannot describe what I’m feeling right now.”  At some point or another in the past three years of writing on this site I picked up one of the best pieces of writerly, and perhaps worldly, advice in my life.  The anecdote basically said that if you ever find our brain starting to say those dangerous words, stop, slap yourself, and then force yourself to explain it in words that do describe it.  It sounds amazingly simple but it’s incredibly difficult.  Try it sometime.

I struggled in the moments leading up to last night’s book signing to grasp why exactly I was nervous, but then I knew.  Friday Night Lights is the single most influential book of my entire life.  I was nervous because I was grateful.  I was scared because I felt I owed a debt.  It started with the movie back in high school, sure, but I eventually got to my senses and read the real thing.  This eventually led to the remarkable television series, only my favorite TV show of all-time.  Those three independently shaped my college choice, largely helped me come out of a state of depression halfway through college, and helped me make a decision in recent years about who I really wanted to be.  I became comfortable with myself for the first time in my entire life.  If these sound like big, important life decisions, it’s because they are.  And the genesis of it all was this man’s book, for my money, the greatest sports book ever written (and easily the best football book).

So there I was five feet away and he got into his pitch about Father’s Day, reading some select passages that further reinforced my impressions that the book will be a success.  The intensity radiated off of him, even as he read one of the more touching passages that described Zach’s birth, so much so that I made a mental note of how far back I leaned in my chair, as if a gale-force wind was blowing directly in my face.  He also has this habit of flicking his tongue like a snake while he speaks.  It adds to the persona as if to let unsuspecting audience members know that he is capable of unleashing venom at any time.  The nervous meter was by then coming in at a 125 reading.  Selfishly, the whole time I couldn’t help but think of what I was eventually going to say to him at the end though.

If you’re expecting some life-altering event or incredible meeting of the minds took place last night at the Northwest Highway Barnes and Noble, it didn’t.  We essentially ended up having a group conversation about sports and I think I even impressed him with how much knowledge I possessed on each topic which varied from LeBron James to Tony La Russa to Boobie Miles, the focal point of Friday Night Lights.  He explained that the director of the movie and the TV show, Peter Berg, is his cousin in real life, a fact that blew my mind because of the frightening amount of knowledge I possess about the franchise.  He also discussed the large amount of alcohol he’d consumed the previous night with the show’s lead actor Kyle Chandler and how much fun it was to do so.  If you’re wondering if I was jealous, I was.  Scratch that, I am.  I will be.

I still couldn’t think of any questions I felt were worthy of him. 

I was second in line to get my book signed behind a man who brought every single one of Buzz’s sports books to the occasion.  When it was finally my turn, I explained that my fiancee is eventually going to work with children like his son Zach after having received a Masters degree this past weekend.  He signed the copy to her and eventually got to signing Friday Night Lights which I had him address to me.  He politely declined my invitation to go out for a drink afterwards, citing an early flight the next day but most especially the previous night’s toll on his body, courtesy one Kyle Chandler.  And just like that it was time to go.  I found myself having an internal panic attack.  Think the famous scene in Christmas Story when Ralphie can’t remember what he wants from Santa Clause and freezes when he gets on the big guy’s lap.

I found my legs carrying my body to a place my head didn’t want to be.  And so I paused.  I turned around.  I interrupted the next person in line and simply thanked Harry Gerard Bissinger III.  I thanked him for that book.  I explained that it meant so much to me.  I told him that it influenced me.  It lasted all of five seconds but I felt the relief rush from my body like a recently unplugged bath drain.

Most people’s heroes are athletes, politicians, actors, or even fictional characters.  My heroes are writers.  I got the pleasure of meeting and thanking one of them last night which was about the coolest thing I did all week. 

It might be the single most revealing thing a human being can do to bare his thoughts, emotions, and feelings in print for all the world to see.  The majority of the human race can hide their insecurities in the deepest, darkest corners of their brain and, if they so choose, never share them with anyone.  The writer does just the opposite, opening themselves up for deep personal criticism and public scorn.

If that’s not the definition of a hero, I don’t know what is.

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Connie Britton Confirms Friday Night Lights Movie

She of course played Mrs. Coach (Tami Taylor) on the show.  From US Weekly:

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose…at the box office!

TV’s cult hit Friday Night Lights is headed to the big screen for a second time, confirms series star Connie Britton.

“It’s happening for realsies,” Britton, 44 — who earned an Emmy nod for her role as Tami Taylor — tells Us Weekly.

Since the NBC/DirecTV drama’s executive producer Peter Berg announced plans to adapt the series in August, Britton says the pieces have been quickly falling into place.

“Pete is totally fired up to do it and I know Jason Katims is talking about writing a script. I think it’s really a matter of…getting everyone’s busy schedules aligned and making it happen,” says Britton. “It kind of feels like there’s a lot of commitment to it.”

Though she’s currently tied up shooting Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story for FX, Britton tells Us she’ll do all she can to bring Tami to the big screen. “I for one will do my part in trying to push it along,” she says of the possible film, which will follow the 2004 Billy Bob Thornton flick of the same name.

Can this day get any better?

[US Weekly]

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Derek Jeter And Minka Are No Longer Together

Friday Night Light fans this is your official alert! Lyla Garrity is back on the market. From Just Jared:

Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly have called it quits after three years together, JustJared.com can confirm.

“The split was amicable,” sources exclusively tell JJ of the 37-year-old Yankees superstar and 31-year-old actress. “But they remain friends. They still really care for each other.”

When JJ contacted her reps, they did confirm the split.

So, all you single guys out there, what would you pay to be Jeter’s wingman for a night?

[Just Jared]

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Friday Night Lights Set To Become A Movie

Not to be confused with the once popular book which became a book which became a movie which became a TV series which now becomes a movie again. What? Who cares. Way pumped for this.  From Deadline.com:

After today’s TCA panel for NBC’s Prime Suspect, the series’ executive producer Peter Berg confirmed that a movie version/sequel to his critically acclaimed NBC/DirecTV drama series Friday Night Lights, which recently ended its five-season run, is in active development. The movie is on track and the script is being written, Berg said. “We’re very serious about trying to do it,” he said, with a goal of going into production next year. The project would be produced by Universal Pictures — the studio behind the 2004 movie starring Billy Bob Thornton — and Imagine, with Brian Grazer producing. It would feature the cast of the series led by Emmy nominees Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.

It will be interesting to see if it take place back in Texas or contiues on with the Taylor’s move to Philadelphia.

[Deadline.com]

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Great Sports Writing: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Couldn’t Lose”

On this, the day where the Friday Night Lights series finale take place on NBC, I can think of nothing more appropriate than this fantastic oral history of the show.  The piece recently appeared on Bill Simmons’ Grantland site and shows up in the format popularized in the new book that tells the history of ESPN.  Read through it as the cast and crew recount just what exactly made this show so special.  I’ve endorsed the show enough times on the site already so I won’t go into that again.  From Grantland:

Berg: I couldn’t find a coach. The only actor I liked was Dwight Yoakam. He seemed interesting — kind of a flawed, messed-up Southern boy who wanted to act. I met with him a couple times, but then he started making demands. He would need eight weeks off to tour. He’d only be able to give us eight days of filming. And he wanted a ton of money. He made it impossible for us to say yes.

Linda Lowy (casting director): Pete and I talked a lot about who was going to play Coach Taylor. He had ideas for people who were Billy Bob Thornton-like. Kyle Chandler couldn’t be less like Billy Bob Thornton.

Berg: I said, “Kyle Chandler?” I only knew him from [late-’90s CBS drama] Early Edition. I was not a fan of that show, and I was not a fan of Kyle Chandler.

Aubrey: I think Pete was concerned that Kyle was too pretty. But a couple weeks later, Pete met him for lunch.

Berg: He rode up on a motorcycle. He’d been drinking for two days with his buddies. He had a beard and bags under his eyes. He was clearly hung-over as shit. I was really surprised, because I remembered him as this fresh-faced, boyish, charming young man. And here he was looking like one of the Baldwin brothers after a hard weekend.

Kyle Chandler (Coach Eric Taylor): Pete said, “Kyle, what the hell’s wrong with you?” I said, “I apologize. I was out with my friends.” We had been consuming a considerable amount of alcohol, smoking cigars, and playing poker. I’d been up all night.

Berg: He looked like a mess, and I just said, “You look like a Texas high school football coach!”

Chandler: He said, “Whatever you did last night, I want you to do that every night. I want you to look exactly the same you do right now when you do the show.” A big Cheshire Cat grin came across my face, because I envisioned telling my wife that that was part of the job.

I’ve already seen the episode on DVD, please tune in tonight if you have the opportunity.  Well worth it.

[Grantland]

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