When the Highland Park Scots scored an upset victory last week to get into the state football semifinals against the Odessa Permian MoJos, all commercial air space was sold out within 30 minutes. No problem; the exclusive Dallas suburb chartered a fleet of nine Boeing 727s.
"Curtis LeMay would been proud of us," said Harold Giddens, president of the Highland Park Boosters Club, who herded fur-coated Highland Parkers onto 27 color-coded charter buses from the Highland Park Stadium to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport.
A couple of dozen corporate jets joined the temporary Texas air force on its run to the overcrowded Midland-Odessa airport 300 miles west.
"It's like launching the Spanish Armada," said Charles Seay, an insurance man and community leader. "I just hope we have better success."
Football is big in Texas. And this was a big game, a classic confrontation between the upscale folks of Highland Park, home of the Hunts and several others on Fortune's list of the wealthiest Americans, and Odessa, home of oilfield roughnecks and roustabouts who have spent a lifetime drilling for the liquid that made Highland Park rich. But football today also was the great social leveler. West Texas hospitality was the order of the day in Odessa. There was some thought of throwing a pre-game barbecue for the well-to-do visitors on the tarmac at Midland-Odessa Airport, next to the parked jets, but the hosts settled instead for the convention center. The West Texans greeted their guests with whoops and hugs and marveled at the grandeur of their mode of transportation, but like Texans everywhere, they were not about to be one-upped.
"I told all the boys in the chuckwagon line serving the barbecue that if you got your Rolexes on, roll up your sleeves, and if you got your Timexes on, put them in your pocket," said one resident, who added, "Print my name and I am in a heap of trouble."
The Odessa Police Department provided siren-wailing escorts for the Highland Parkers between the airport and the football field.
The Highland Park Scots had a Cinderella season, scoring an upset one-point win in the quarterfinals last week to get into the semifinals with Odessa. It was incumbent on everyone who could get away for the day to get to Odessa, but a six-hour drive across drab West Texas just would not do.
Highland Park is the sort of community where Cub Scout troops take field trips on Learjets, but even here, the scale of this operation tickled the Texas fancy for doing it big.
"We'll have 4,000 or 5,000 at the game," Giddens said. "That's about 25 percent of Highland Park."
Highland Park High sends 96 percent of its graduates to college, but football is a religion here, just as it is all over Texas. It is a school of only 1,350 students, but its football team traveling squad has no fewer than 110 players. Illustrious alumni include Bobby Layne and Doak Walker.
However devoted they are to football in Highland Park, the rich suburbs do not hold a candle to the mania in Odessa.
"We don't have any lakes here or mountains or hunting or fishing," said Glen Atkins, an Odessa bank vice president. "About all we got to do is watch high school football."
And they do it in style. The MoJos' $5 million artificial-turf stadium seats 19,200. ("If there's a bigger high school stadium in the country, I haven't heard of it," said Permian Athletic Director Jack Brewer.) The marching band has 220 members, and the football team has been to the finals six times in the past 20 years.
Odessa also goes to out-of-town games. When Highland Park was the opponent in the state semifinal four years ago, 10,000 Odessans made it to Texas Stadium outside Dallas for the game. But they all drove.
"These Highland Park folks sure know how to travel," said Jim Boyle, a member of the Chuckwagon Gang. "It kind of takes your breath away." There is little trace of envy in his voice.
"This is just a real happening," Brewer added. To understand just how deep the football feeling runs, keep an eye on the next session of the Texas Legislature.
This past year, H. Ross Perot got the idea that high schools were placing too much emphasis on football. Under prodding by Perot, head of the Dallas computer company EDS and chairman of a citizens advisory panel on education reform, the legislature passed a "no pass-no play" rule to make sure high school athletes kept their grades up. But the upcoming legislative session is going to face heavy pressure to have the rule rescinded -- not from the coaches, who are so livid about it they almost get tongue-tied, but from the Texas Association of School Principals.
The game? Odessa won, 20 to 7.