“Well, there’s a feeling in the air/Just like a Friday afternoon
You can go there if you want/though it fades too soon.”
— Better Than Ezra, “This Time of Year.”
In every community, there are The Lights. It is The Lights, quite literally, that rise above our flat land that symbolize Fridays in the fall. Buzz Bissinger may have been writing about Texas high school football when he coined the phrase “Friday Night Lights,” but he could have been talking about the Mississippi Delta. Drive into any Delta community on a Friday evening, and if you can find The Lights, then you will almost certainly find that week’s main event. Sure, I guess you could try to follow the cars but the real giveaway is to find that familiar hazy downward glow cutting through the humidity, insect spray, and of course, smoke from the concession stand revealing 100 yards of excitement.
In full disclosure, I must admit that sometimes the search for The Lights can go astray. In 1985, my parents and I drove to the annual Winona Shrine Bowl. Honestly, I did not know there was an annual Winona Shrine Bowl then, and I do not know whether this creature is still in existence. But on that brisk November evening, we set forth in my father’s small Cadillac toward Winona to watch the mighty Bayou Academy Colts. (It is important to note at this time that Winona is not technically in the Delta. It is actually at the foot of “the hills.”) As we drove into Montgomery County, I asked Dad if he knew where we were going. Dad looked back at me like I had asked him for ketchup for an expertly-cooked steak.
“We’re going to Winona, son. Winona, Mississippi,” Dad explained. “We aren’t looking for a field in Atlanta. Look for the lights. It won’t be that hard.” Like most everything Dad said to me throughout my life, it seemed pretty darn logical.
A couple moments later, we entered the city limits of Winona and were greeted to our right, over the hills and through the trees, by that unmistakable halo of stadium lighting. Sure enough, just as Dad said, The Lights were there. Visions of the great game ran through my head, and the shining lights ahead guided us to our destination like we were the Magi seeking the Holy manger in Bethlehem. As we topped the hill, we moved over to the right lane to see that our guideposts shone brightly down upon the glorious and unmistakable sight of . . . Wal Mart.
“Shut up, son,” Dad mumbled as he turned the car around.
We found other lights, and discovered the football field a couple minutes later. But other than this one exception, The Lights have always shown me the way.
The Lights serve as a spotlight not just for that night’s game, but for small children playing their own football games behind the bleachers, for fathers standing on the sidelines “remembering when,” and of course, for mothers staring at an acre of lined turf with a look of both pride and worry. There might be a game in front of us, but somehow, someway, the Lights can also magically show us games past or even games we never saw. Under The Lights, any young quarterback scrambling for his life calls to mind the skinny redhead from Drew named Archie. Any coach barking orders to his team could be the late great Coach Leland Young from Rosedale, a man who used the MS River’s Levee as a training tool to mold boys into champions. Speaking of Rosedale, every time a punt is sent into The Lights, I think of the humid fall Delta night when Cleveland’s Taylor King pinned the mighty Eagles under the shadow of their own goal line to set up the only score in an epic 2–0 upset. I become a young boy again under The Lights. I see the great plays and, of course, I also see the not so great plays. It was under The Lights in Skene that I once saw our team’s kick returner (who shall remain nameless) field a kickoff on our own 5 yard line and casually jog into our end zone and take a knee to give our opponent two points. I think of that one play every time that I see a kickoff under The Lights. I could go on and on as the memories flood into my minds’s eye.
It’s that time of year again. Let’s find The Lights.
- This essay was originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of Delta Magazine.