Texas Times: Friday Night Lights

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn Aug. 19, 2008, 10:00am

The road from Texas six-man football to fame in the National Football League is one rarely traveled.

Players on six-man teams, more than 120 across the state, might call it the "impossible dream." So, when that distant opportunity becomes reality, people never forget the athlete who made the exceptional journey.

The achievements of Jack Pardee, who played for the six-man Christoval Cougars more than five decades ago, probably surpassed most expectations in his hometown south of San Angelo. He went on to become an All-American for Texas A&M, All-Pro for the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins, and two-time NFL Coach of the Year.

After NFL head coaching jobs in Chicago and Washington, he came back to Texas in the 1980s when he coached the Houston Gamblers, the University of Houston Cougars and the Houston Oilers. His many achievements came full circle when he was selected for the Texas Six-Man Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

Jack Pardee's success draws attention to the rich heritage of six-man football in Texas, where the intensity of the players and the enthusiasm of their fans belie the size of the high school and the community. The ladder of high school football starts with the six-man teams, which come from high schools with less than 100 students.

Despite their size, these teams are ingrained in the lore of Texas high school football. Many of their names grab our attention: Jayton Jaybirds, Trent Gorillas, Kress Kangaroos, Rankin Red Devils and Buckholts Badgers. Six-man football holds a warm place in the hearts of fans in larger places too. It is one of the stars in the galaxy of Texas high school football, which includes more than 1,100 teams.

Stadium lights brighten the skies above Texas towns large and small every Friday night. Some games are played on Saturdays or other days, but Fridays are prime time for high school football. Long before there was a book and a hit television series by the same name, the "Friday Night Lights" symbolized a sport that turned into a passion in Texas.

Game day becomes a social event where fans of all ages gather to support the pride of their community. Televisions are turned off and stores close early as fans head to the community's main event to root for their team. Bands, drill teams and cheerleaders add to the pageantry.

The six-man game differs from all other high schools. It is played on a shorter field, 80 yards instead of 100. Quarters are 10 minutes, instead of 12. The game can end early if one team leads by 45 points at the end of the first half or during the second half. First downs come after a gain of 15 yards, not 10. Touchdowns still count for six points, but field goals are worth four, instead of three.

These and other differences generate non-stop action and high scoring games. In last year's Division I six-man state championship game, the Richland Springs Coyotes defeated the Rule Bobcats, 98-54. The Motley County Matadors took the Division II state title with a 44-38 win over the Woodson Cowboys.

The legacy of six-man football extends beyond the state championships and the record books. The teams reflect the unique character of each town. The school is the heart of the community. In its classrooms, dedicated teachers nurture students' dreams and cultivate their potential.

Texas has more six-man teams than any other state. Six-man football represents qualities and a way of life in places that typify the Texas spirit. The niche these teams hold in their hometowns and throughout Texas high school football is one we can all admire and enjoy.

Sen. Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee's Airland subcommittee.

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