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Bissinger buzzes on famous football book

Bridget Keating | Friday, February 17, 2006

Venerated author Buzz Bissinger delivered a spirited message on the power of sports and the inspiration they lent to his best-selling novel “Friday Night Lights” to an enthusiastic crowd at Washington Hall 7 p.m. Thursday evening in the final event of the Notre Dame Literary Festival (NDLF).

NDLF Chairperson Laura Fox described the event-sponsoring Student Union Board’s attraction to the author of “Friday Night Lights” as a fitting end to the festival. His performance was titled “Through the Looking Glass.”

“Bissinger’s talent and work appeal to students’ sports fanaticism and varied interests, as he has written about football, baseball and urban politics,” Fox said.

Bissinger, winner of prestigious awards such as the Pulitizer Prize, Livingston Award, American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award and the National Headliners Award, delivered a pointed speech on his book, which centered on the impact of high school football on small-town life. He began by verbally painting a picture of his journey to Odessa, Texas, through “dry, dusty Texas,” where high school stadiums were “shrines, temples, glistening, perfect. It was obvious that something powerful was going on in these places.”

He animatedly emphasized the “sacred, special American phrase – ‘Friday Night.'” He went on to speak about the power of sports and the experience of seeing 20,000 fans cheering on high school boys when he moved to Odessa in 1988.

The author then turned to the negative influence of athletics and “the other side, the way in which kids were literally being sacrificed in the hope of winning a state championship.”

He further described the town’s obsession and adoration of high school football.

“Preparation for life after this intoxicating experience is considered little more than an afterthought,” he said.

He spoke at length about Booby Miles, the Permian High School football player whose life and high school football career are chronicled in “Friday Night Lights.” Bissinger said the book started positively and “began as a love story, like ‘Hoosiers,’ but turned out a cautionary tale.”

The author fielded questions from the attentive audience about the movie, its effects and more. He described his experiences with the film – which his cousin directed – as positive.

Bissinger denied that his next project would necessarily involve sports.

“I’m not a sports writer,” he said. “I gravitate toward subjects that light me up.”

Throughout his speech, Bissinger alluded to Notre Dame’s tradition and reputation, contrasting the University to other schools at which academics are a second priority to athletics and where athletes “are not there to study.”

In a post- lecture interview, he expressed his respect for Notre Dame’s “unique tradition of excellence on and off the playing field.”

“The concept of student-athlete has not been compromised here,” he said. “It is one of the few schools that can attract top students and continue to have a winning tradition.”

Audience members were able to socialize with the acclaimed author at a reception following the speech.

SUB Manager Jimmy Flaherty commented on the lecture’s role as the culminating event of the Literary Festival.

“Bissinger is a premier author,” he said. “This event was an amazing opportunity for students to interact with him in an informal setting, which is what NDLF is all about.” Begun in 1967, NDLF encourages close interaction between students and the visiting wide spectrum of writers.