Texas' Top Ten High School Rivalries: Odessa Permian vs. Midland Lee
By Travis Stewart, DCTF Staff Writer
Odessa Permain vs. Midland LeeThere's no high school rivalry in Texas -- football, basketball, baseball or otherwise -- that has captured the country's imagination quite like Permian versus Lee. It's not the oldest, it's not the most bitter and it may not even be the most relevant year in and year out, but for some reason the annual battle between these two West Texas schools has inherited an unshakable celebrity status.
Maybe it's because the average non-Texas resident thinks of cities like Midland and Odessa when you say "Texas," or maybe it's because the laundry list of college and NFL names that hail from the area is both lengthy and distinguished (Cedric Benson, Roy Williams, etc.) Maybe it's the overt and darn near frightening fanaticism that every -- and I mean every -- regional household proudly displays, or maybe its just an endless self-feeding cycle of media hype.
No matter the cause, it is what it is. It's Friday Night Lights. It's Texas football itself. It's Odessa Permian and Midland Lee.
Maybe the biggest reason the now-famous rivalry sits where it does is because of just how good these two teams were for a while. During a 21-year stretch from 1980 (the first year of 5A football) and 2000 (the last year either played in a state championship), the two schools combined for 10 state finals appearances (that's out of just 32 -- a 31% clip) and won seven of them. In '83, '84 and '85, at least one of the two was in a state final. Midland Lee won three straight titles from '98 to 2000. Those numbers don't even sound real.
"I think obviously for a long time, the two schools had some success -- quite a bit of success -- and the district championship would even come down to that game," said Lee coach Randy Quisenberry.
For anyone who's ever been out to West Texas for any length of time, you know certain things are true: you won't see much rain, you can probably find a job in the oil business, and the heat is going to drive you mad sooner or later. If you haven't been out there ... well, there's just not much to do -- and Quisenberry will be the first to admit it.
"Out in West texas, there's not a lot of things going on," he said. "There's no college teams, no pro teams, so all the media, all the hype, starts building up before the game."
And even though football is the main show in town out there, Permian coach Darren Allman said the craze actually has more to do with sporting in general than just the gridiron.
"When football season is over with, our kids spread out," Allman said. "They run track, they play baseball, they play basketball -- not just football. Athletics is more of a year-round interest to the kids ... because of the fact that we're not going to the lake in Odessa -- unless you drive four hours -- and we're not going to the amusement park or snow-skiing. If we've got some free time on our hands, we're going to some type of athletic event."
But as big as this game is, it's not like Permian and Lee were the first show in town, either. A long time ago, it was schools from the same cities without the surnames -- Odessa High and Midland High. But when both Odessa and Permian opened new schools (Permian in '59 and Lee in '61), the landscape of the rivalry changed, and the newer-faster-stronger duo took center stage in the wild West. And that, as they say, was history (or in this case, legend.)
"There have been some big games and some really big players (who played in the rivalry) who are playing in the pros right now," Quisenberry said. "That's added to it. There's been some real epic battles, and that's added more to the lore of it."
One of those epic players might have been coach Allman himself, who played at Permian durng the '84, '85 and '86 seasons. This means Allman saw an interesting cross-section of football seasons for the Panthers: a title ('84), a championship game loss ('85) and a "down" year ('86).
"It's a unique perspective, one that very few get to experience," Allman said. "In '86 we had somewhat of a down year at Permian -- we were 8-2. We didn't make the playoffs! We lost 13-7 to Midland Lee. Before that we were 8-0 and No. 1 in the state, but the last two games were our toughest, Midland Lee and San Angelo Central. Those two games were the only two games we lost."
But even regional, geographic or social features can't totally explain the national and local hysteria that surrounds this game. In some instances, the most bitter of rivalries can be born from the most innocent of actions; is it possible that Permian-Lee could have been ignited over a print column?
"I don't know, but I heard that what really fueled it was a magazine article that came out," said Quisenberry. "It was a syndicated magazine ... It said something like: 'Midland, a great place to raise kids. Odessa, a great place to raise hell.' That's been a long time ago, maybe back in the '70's."
Them's fightin' words, right? Maybe not so much - like many of the matchups on this list, Permian-Lee has cooled off over recent years. Quisenberry, who started at Lee in 2004, said he hasn't really seen any hijinx during that three-year span. Of course, that doesn't mean there hasn't been any in the past (like painting Highway 191, which connects the two cities), and that doesn't mean there won't ever be any again. Depending on who you ask, the Permian Basin is just a big pile of dried tender, waiting for a poorly placed match.
"The book (Friday Night Lights) comes up and you get weird calls from all over the country," Quisenberry said. "There's been no major book release and no major scandals to get things stirred back up. ... It could take one little incident and it would all re-explode."
Allman's take? Just like most football way out West ... it's all bussiness.
"It's been back and forth, and we've just now gotten it back again," Allman said. "It's kind of like the stockmarket -- it's just going in phases.
"Hopefully it's back."