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Friday night (spot)lights!

The essence of Texas high school football was captured in this photo depicting the catch of a final-play, Hail Mary pass that won a state title for Galena Park North Shore last year. (Photo: chron.com)

Google the play, and watch it again! If it does not give you chills, then I am not sure what will move you. A classic Hail Mary pass. A perfect strike to the corner of the end zone. Caught in a crowd with no time left on the clock.

Damatrius Davis threw it; A.J. Carter caught it. Galena Park North Shore won its third state title. Duncanville and its fans were broken hearted. Their faces and reactions told the story of a team that had not won a state championship in football since 1998. They could not believe it. 31-26 the final. This is what High School Football in Texas is all about. And it all happened right there in the west end zone of AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas.

Each December, Arlington is the center of the Texas High School Football universe. Which is to say Arlington is the center of the universe in all of high school football. Nobody does it better than Texas. Now that the championship games are all played on a long weekend in December in Arlington, we get the best of the best every year.

For years the world has marveled at our obsession with high school football. Back when the Republican National Convention came to Dallas in 1984 Peter Jennings famously showed a national television audience the High School Football “special section” produced by the Dallas Morning News. He could not believe our love of this game inspired a “phone book thick” special section.

Later that decade Buzz Bissinger was embedded in Odessa Texas, where he followed the Permian Panthers and their quest for a state title. He wrote a book about the experience.  “Friday Night Lights” was originally intended to be a Hoosiers-type chronicle about how high school sports can bring a small town together. Instead it became a best-seller, a major motion picture, a television series and an iconic phrase that describes what we do around here on Friday nights in the fall.

My love of sports, a love that drove me to a career that has allowed me to do what I do for the past 37 years, was born on the sidelines of a high school football field in Fenton, Mich. Steve and Rob, the older boys who lived across the street, were the quarterback and running back for those late ‘60s Tiger teams. Fenton is not a big city; it is not a powerhouse even in Michigan, but to me that football sideline was a magical place. I was an elementary school kid with stars in my eyes, so Steve and Rob might as well have been Joe Namath and O.J. Simpson. For me, a love of sports that drove me to a career of covering games for a living was born right there on a dimly lit field, at a Class B school, where a bunch of kids willingly sacrificed their blood, sweat and tears for the home-town team.

Now that high school season has begun, don’t forget about the blood, the sweat, the tears. Don’t forget about the sacrifice. No one is forcing these kids to play, but they are still representing you and your town every time they take the field. Watch them, support them, enjoy them, because this is Texas – not Fenton, Mich. And while there are plenty of Robs and Steves on those fields, there are also a bunch of guys who become Billy Sims or Drew Brees.

To see the future NFL stars like that, you may have to make a trip to AT&T stadium in late December. It is typically the weekend before Christmas. That Hail Mary that broke Duncanville’s heart happened on Dec. 21, 2018.

But the reality is that the best high school football in the country culminates with a triple header in our city every December. Last year 48,421 people attended game two of the triple header. That was the penultimate game between Longview and Beaumont West Brook. Another 42,363 saw the Hail Mary game. Make sure you are part of that crowd this December, so you won’t have to Google it.

 

Sports columnist John Rhadigan is an anchor for the Fox Sports Southwest television network.