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NOTE: This brief, facts only, spoiler was sent in by Perspixx.
The movie is set in 1988, and follows the story of the Permian High School football team. It opens with an overhead shot of Ratliff Stadium in Odessa, Texas. On the side of the stadium, there is a list of state championships and playoff appearances. They explain it holds 28,000 people.
We see a number of different players on their way to the stadium in the morning. One of them is jogging, being followed by a group of kids wearing Permian jerseys.
The film jumps right into things, showing the first day of practice. The team is coached by Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), in his 2nd season there, and everybody expects the team to win state. During the course of the 1st day of practice, we are introduced to the key players on the team.
#45 Booby Miles (Derek Luke) is a cocky, all-world running back who is getting college offers from all sorts of schools. A large group of college scouts are in the stands at practice watching Booby, while his uncle L.V. (Grover Coulson) touts him.
#20 Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is the quarterback, who wants to get out of Odessa.
#26 Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) is the fullback, whose alcoholic white trash father (Tim McGraw) was on a previous Permian team that won state and puts a lot of pressure on his son, at one point charging on to the field to yell at Don when he fumbles the ball.
#90 Ivory Christian (Lee Jackson) is a starting defensive end nicknamed "Preacher". He doesn't talk at all for most of the movie.
#4 Brian Chavez is the starting safety and defensive captain.
#42 Chris Comer is the third-string running back, or "Booby's backup's backup."
After practice, Winchell and Billingsley are at a diner, and Billingsley is trying to talk Winchell into going to a party. Winchell is reluctant, until a redneck and his wife come up requesting that their infant have her picture taking with Winchell. For some reason, this makes Winchell agree to go to the party. At the party he just sits outside of the house until a girl name Melissa comes out to talk to him. She wants to know why he doesn't have a girlfriend, and asks if he's gay. They end up having sex, but there's no more development between the two after that.
Billingsley is at home making out with a girl when he notices his drunk father is there watching him. Mr. Billingsley isn't mad about him having a girl in the house, or breaking the lamp, but still gets pissed over him fumbling the ball at practice earlier in the day.
The next scene is the night of the first game. We see multiple shots around the town showing that all of the stores there are closed, and everybody is at the game. It's a blowout, and we see numerous shots of Booby running the ball. It's 42-7 in the 4th quarter, and Coach Gaines tells Comer to get in the game. Comer can't find his helmet, so Booby goes back in. On the play, he gets hit hard and badly injured, tearing his ACL. We hear talk radio callers saying that Gaines is the dumbest man on the planet for leaving Booby in.
They play their next game without Booby and lose by a large margin, due to terrible passing by Winchell.
Gaines gets home and sees the people of Odessa have put a bunch of For Sale signs in front of his house. These people are crazy about football.
Coach Gaines visits Winchell at home to give him a pep talk. Winchell's mother is sick and he's worried about her.
Chavez, Billingsley, and Winchell are in a field with a shotgun. Billingsley throws rocks into the air, and Chavez shoots them, while they talk to Winchell, who's really feeling the pressure and thinking about what Coach Gaines talked to him about earlier. Chavez convinces him to lighten up and enjoy the time he's spending at Permian.
Their third game is against Abilene Cooper. Permian is losing early, and their backup running back gets injured. Comer goes in, and on his first play, runs out of bounds because he's afraid to get hit. Coach yells at Comer, then he goes out and has a great game (so does Winchell), and Permian wins. The next scene at school, we see Comer getting all the women's attention, like Booby did before he got hurt. They win their next three games to be 5-1 going into the rivalry game against Midland Lee.
L.V. takes Booby to the hospital in Midland to have his knee checked out. The doctor says that it's torn so bad that Booby can't play. Booby gets mad and yells at the doctor, accusing him of lying because he wants Midland to win. Despite the doctor's diagnosis, L.V. and Booby convince Gaines that he's able to play.
Permian has to win the game to get into the state playoffs. If they lose, there will be a coin toss to determine who goes to state.
Booby doesn't get in at all during the first part of the game, in which the Panthers struggle. Billingsley fumbles, and Comer can't get any yards. Gaines puts Booby in the game with the Panthers down by a score. On his first play, his weak knee gives way and he falls to the ground. On his second play, he gets hit hard and injures his knee again. He's carried off the field, and Permian loses.
On the way back, Billingsley's dad is drunk and pissed off. He kicks out the two back windows of the car and throws his state championship ring out of the window. Billingsley stops the car to get out and look for it. The next morning, Mr. Billingsley apologizes to his son, telling him to cherish the time he has there. Billingsley gives his dad his state title ring.
The next scene is the coin toss at an undisclosed location, between Gaines, and the coaches of Lee and Cooper. The flip is televised lived throughout West Texas, including the locker room at Permian. It looks like all three coins have come up heads, until they take a closer look at the Cooper coach's coin and see it's tails. So Lee and Permian get into the playoffs.
Booby comes to the Permian locker room to clear out all his stuff. He leaves and goes to the car with his uncle L.V. He starts crying, not knowing what to do with his life because all he's ever done is play football.
We see scenes of the favored team in thje playoffs, Dallas Carter. Their players are all fast and strong, and they steamroll their opponents, going the entire season without kicking a field goal or punting. Both Carter and Permian win their playoff games setting up a meeting in the championship game.
Gaines and his staff meet with the coaches of Carter. The Carter coaches are all angry black men. Carter is an all-black school. They refuse to play the state title game in Odessa, because they think Odessa's mostly white population will start problems. They want the game to be played in Dallas. Gaines suggests a compromise: The Houston Astrodome; and the Carter coach accepts. Then they get into an argument over who the referees should be. Gaines wants to hire a neutral crew from San Antonio, the Carter coach wants an all-black crew.
We see all the players getting on the bus for Houston. Booby goes with them on crutches. There is a caravan of cars from Odessa following the bus, and all the stores in town are closed again.
The game against Carter opens with Permian getting the ball, but Carter is so fast the kickoff return only gets to the three. On the very next play, Winchell is sacked in the end zone for a safety. Carter then gets the ball and scores a TD and 2-point conversion to make it 10-0. Christian tells Gaines that Carter is "big, fast, they cheat, and they're fast." Carter scores again to make it 18-0. Winchell is sacked a lot, Chavez keeps getting run over, and Comer can't get past the line of scrimmage. Finally, Christian drops back into a zone and intercepts a Carter pass, runs it back to the 4. Permian scores on the next play to make it 18-7. But Carter scores again to make it 26-7 at halftime.
At halftime, Christian finally starts talking, going on a two-minute tirade of yelling and swearing. We see both coaching staffs making adjustments in the locker room, and both teams praying for victory.
We see a complete reversal of the game in the 2nd half. Chavez and Christian make big hits on defense. Permian comes out and Winchell leads them to a touchdown to make it 26-14. They force a Carter 4th down. Carter goes for it, but the pass bounces off the turf and is incomplete. The only ref nearby is black, though, and he rules it a catch. On the next play, Carter scores another TD and makes it 34-14. But Permian comes back... they score a TD, and a fight breaks out in the end zone. 34-21. Comer makes a big run and taunts the Carter cheerleaders. Permian scores again to make it 34-28.
Permian forces another Carter 4th down, this time a 4th-and-1. Gaines sets a play up, and Christian and #71 blow into the backfield to stop the Carter back with less than 2 minutes in the game. Billingsley separates his shoulder. Winchell starts to lead Permian down the field, though, until Comer gets hurt, too. Winchell completes a pass to get inside the 10 with less than a minute to play, and it's 4th-and-5. Billingsley's shoulder is popped back into place and he goes back out, runs the ball to the 1 for a first down. But the refs call a holding penalty on Permian. They get one last play.
Winchell drops back to pass and avoids the Carter rush. He takes off toward the end zone, but he is stopped at the 1. Permian loses. Carter's team storms the field to celebrate. Winchell, Chavez, and Christian sit in the end zone in disbelief. Billingsley cries and hugs his father, who slips his state title ring onto Billingsley's finger.
The next scene at Odessa's stadium during the day. Empty. Chavez, Billingsley, and Winchell say good-bye to each other. Gaines is in his office taking the names of the seniors off of his depth chart. As he takes each one off, we find out what happened to them:
Chavez went to Harvard and became a lawyer, Christian got a D-I scholarship, Booby played in junior college and had twins & his uncle died, Billingsley is still close with his father, and Winchell played one year at Baylor.
The next year, Coach Gaines and Chris Comer had an undefeated season and won the State Championship.
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