Commentary: Everything’s bigger in Texas…especially the football

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Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

Fans watch the Allen vs. Hebron semi-final football game. The game was held at Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas.

I’ve seen my fair share of football games, but nothing could have prepared me for entering the cathedral that is Eagle Stadium.

While in Dallas, I attended Allen High School‘s semi-final playoff game against nearby Hebron High School on Nov. 17.

Friday night lights deep in the heart of Texas is truly unlike anything else. Where else do you find Coca-Cola sponsored jumbotrons, thousands of cheering fans decked out in jerseys of their favorite players and banners touting national championships in a high school? Yes, you read that correctly — high school. 

The stadium was packed with navy adorned spectatorsas if the entire county was in attendance. Eagle Stadium, Allen’s home field, holds 18,000 and cost $60 million to construct. You know it’s pretty important when a football field has its own Wikipedia page.

Photo by Cybele Zhang
Spectators watch the game from the upper terrace of Eagle Stadium. The stadium holds 18,000 and cost $60 million to construct.

The hour on the game clock was like stepping into another world. A world where getting a first down was life or death. A world where Tim Riggins, Buddy Garrity and Coach Eric Taylor of “Friday Night Lights” would’ve fit right in.

Generations of families anxiously watched their sons, brothers and grandsons squeeze through gaps and run for the end zone. They breathed football.

I sat behind a father and his four-year-old son, as he coached the little boy through each play that the Allen Eagles ran. The snap, the handoff, the blocks, the run.

Above us boosters in balcony level reserved seats nervously tapped their feet, hoping that the Eagles would remain undefeated.

It was strange to think that the boys on the field were my age and many even younger. They seemed to carry the weight of the world and the expectations of the entire community.

Many middle-aged men in attendance still wore their own high school championship rings — slightly dulled with age but still golden and glittering.

I met another four-year-old boy, who told me his sister was a cheerleader. He and his parents came to the game each week. They all had custom bedazzled shirts with the beloved cheerleader’s name in big letters. When asked if he wanted to play football too, the little boy just giggled and nodded. Of course he did; it’s Allen, Texas, after all.

Even the bands were bigger. At halftime, all 780 members of Allen’s marching band rushed the field and carried out meticulously choreographed routines. The green turf turned into a sea of black feathers and blue jackets. Fans cheered almost as wildly as they did for the players when the band got into its ending formation: the letters E, A, G, L, E, S covering all 100 yards of the pristine field.

But soon enough, the show was over, and it was back to football.

The teams’ return to the field rivaled the NFL, complete with 60-foot-tall inflatable tunnels and smoke machines.

Filmed and Edited by Cybele Zhang

The game itself was intense. The players could have held their own against many Division I college teams, and each play was brutal and hard fought. A few players went down over the course of the game, and each time an injury occurred, silence filled the otherwise raging stadium. It was a moment of calm and fear in the midst of celebration. Everyone on the field took a knee and medical staff rushed to the injured boy.

Soon enough, the eerie stillness was broken by the band bursting into the fight song, “All I Do is Win” or “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The boy hobbled off the field, and attention was back to moving the chains.

Elderly spectators in wheelchairs and attached to oxygen tanks cheered for their team each time the number on the scoreboard rose.

What surprised me most though was quarterback Clayton Tune on the Hebron side. It wasn’t his field, he endured heavily biased refs and his team was down — but he never gave up. He ran, he threw and he took a few sacks — but his relentless efforts didn’t go unnoticed. At times the rest of his team crumbled, but he was there to pick up the pieces until the final whistle blew.

48-17 Allen, the final score read.

The players exchanged handshakes — some good natured, others not so much. And the last thing I saw before leaving the stadium were the Eagles huddled, praying.

Allen proceeded deeper into the state championship playoff, playing against South Grand Prairie in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium playoff. Allen won 28-14, extended their winning streak and playoff run.

I’m sure many Eagles dream about playing for Cowboys themselves, but for most, the season is the end of a chapter. It is their last moments in a navy jersey, last time scoring a touchdown and last glimpse of high school greatness.

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  • Allen cheerleaders celebrate the Eagles’ lead. They performed tricks throughout the game.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • The Eagle kicker successfully scores a field goal. After the game, Allen had a 12-0 undefeated record.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • Hebron cheerleaders pump up the student section. One of the cheerleaders was disabled and in a wheelchair.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • The three-level press box in Eagle Stadium. The main level has a film deck with areas for scouts and athletics staff, the second floor has operations and media support and the third floor is for coaches, hospitality and a judges’ area for band competition.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • Allen fans cheer on their team. The school’s enrollment is 4,853.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • Hebron quarterback Clayton Tune looks down the field. Tune is a senior and has numerous college offers.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • Students run across the field with an Allen flag. Their football team is the top ranked high school team in Texas.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • The Allen marching band spells at "Eagles" on the field during the halftime show. The band includes 780 students.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • The Eagles run out of an A-shaped tunnel at the conclusion of half time. By defeating Hebron, Allen continued on to the state championship in AT&T Cowboy Stadium.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • Play stops after a lineman goes down with an injury. He was taken off the field by medical staff.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • A young fan cheers on the Eagles. Allen continued on in the state championship, where they defeated South Grand Prairie.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • Hebron lines up for a play. The school is located in Carrollton, Texas.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • The Hebron student section boos the referres' call. Throughout the game, their team was frequently penalized.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • The Allen quarterback buys time in the pocket, waiting for receivers to get open. The Eagles won the a national championship in 2014.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

  • Allen players high-five fans after winning the game. The stadium can be seen from miles away.

    Photo credit: Cybele Zhang

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Correction (Nov. 30, 5:40): The original version of this article state that Allen won the state championship. That mistake has been corrected to state that the Eagles defeated South Grand Prairie to extend their playoff run. Next, the team will face Martin in the regional level of the playoff.