I lived, for awhile, in Odessa, Texas when I was a boy. My Dad and his partner, a fellow named Earl, owned and operated Basin Battery & Electric in Odessa, and my grandfather was pastor of some little independent Baptist church, the name of which I do not recall. If I had to guess, I would say it was Bible Baptist Church, but that is just a guess. I was really young when we were there, four to six years old. Like so many places, we did not stay all that long.
My memories of Odessa include Earl racing stock cars on Friday nights and Dad and me going to watch him a few times; walking with my uncle, who is three years my senior, to the 7-11 for a cherry cola Slurpee; and jumping off the platform on which the church’s swamp cooler rested and feeling like I was flying. I remember learning to land with my knees bent and to roll to lessen the impact. I remember a birthday party and a Batman cake. I remember getting a pair of six-shooters and the two-gun holster and belt that came with them. I remember these things, and the wind, and the dirt.
Odessa is a butt-ugly burg on the wind-whipped plains of west Texas. If it were not for intermittent oil booms and sometimes-successful cotton farms, it would be the most depressing place on earth, or at least in the running. Oil, however, made a few people rich, and provided jobs that paid the kind of money that people would actually move there on purpose, and from much prettier places.
The other thing Odessa is known for is Odessa Permian High School, specifically, the Permian Panthers football team. The Panthers are six-time state champions and two-time national champions. This is the program that spawned a book, then a movie, and, finally, a popular TV series all by the same name, Friday Night Lights.
Permian fans dress in black, reminiscent of the Oakland Raiders fans, and are about as popular as Raiders fans with other schools’ supporters. They are loud and intense. Some might say obnoxious.
Their renowned chant is “Mo…jo! Mo…jo!”
I snipped the following from the website permianpanthersfootball.com:
MOJO is the rallying cry of the Odessa Permian Panthers football team, and has come to be like a second mascot for the school. Ask any football fan- anywhere- what MOJO is and they will likely know about Permian football.
Stories about the origin and meaning of MOJO as it pertains to Permian football are numerous- so numerous in fact that another website could likely be devoted to that subject alone. One theory is that a fan was heard to say after a big comeback victory, “we really had our MOJO working”, from the popular Muddy Waters blues song of the same name. Another version of the story is that several “over-served” alumni started the yell, and it took off from there. Whatever the story, it is generally accepted that MOJO was first yelled during a game in 1967, and by the next year the battle cry was being yelled in unison at all games.
No matter how or when it started, in my opinion MOJO simply means this- the team comes first…give 110%, 100% of the time…never say die…never accept defeat.
Permian certainly doesn’t own the patent on these qualities, but it is what they have done with these qualities that makes MOJO unique. With six Texas Class 5A championships, unofficial national titles in 1972 and 1989, 11 championship game appearances, and an overall record of 557-181-12, Permian’s legacy cannot be denied. When 10,000 black-clad fans screaming MOJO and a team of well-trained Panthers come together as one, there may not be a force in the realm of high school athletics more powerful- MOJO POWER!
There was some scandal and controversy along the way, including accusations of rules-breaking recruitment of athletes to the school, and then, in 2013-2014, five teachers who were accused of inappropriate relations with students.
These black eyes notwithstanding, few high school programs in the nation have enjoyed the kind of success Permian has, and no other high school football program has contributed to the world of literature and film the way Permian has.
They got that mojo, you know…and that is what I have come to chat with you about.
Did you ever say to yourself or someone else, “I’ve got to get my mojo back?”
Or did you ever say of anyone, “He (she) has that mojo working?”
First, let’s define the word, mojo. To do that, I will tag Cambridge Dictionary:
a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy
With such a definition, there are a couple of things immediately clear to me:
1. Not everyone has mojo; in fact, it might be argued that few do and that is what makes it special in the first place.
2. Mojo can come and go. Did you notice that the last state championship Permian won was in 1991? At this writing, that was 30 years ago! Since then, the mantle has fallen on programs like Aledo High School in Aledo, Texas, which has won 10 state titles between 1998 – 2020; Southlake Carroll in Southlake, Texas, which has won eight championships; Katy High School down Houston way, also with eight; and others. The Mojo has moved on from desolate Odessa the same way the oil boom did, leaving tumbleweeds and tales of glories past in its dust.
If you ever had mojo – I feel I did once or twice – and lost it (I did that, too), here are a few suggestions for getting it back:
1. Understand it was never yours to begin with, not exclusively. Your ability is God-given: the circumstances and factors conspiring to conjure your mojo were likely not your doing. Mojo or no, it is not about you, and if you make it about you, it won’t be about you for long, or, if it is, you won’t like how it is. Ask President Trump. If he had gotten out of his own way, managed to be more gracious, and humble,if he had made that mojo about others more and himself less…
2. Mojo is magic but it is not a trick. It is the product of some combination of grit, grace, wit, endurance, commitment, hard work, and planning.
3. Mojo is not about itself. Mojo is about what it produces: a favorable outcome.
4. If you can lose it, you can find it. I have always had good success locating lost things. It begins with remembering where you were, how you got there, what you were doing while there, and the likeliest places you may have lost it.
Did you know that Jesus recognized mojo and addressed it? He said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Gospel of Luke 12:28)
People with mojo bear the burden of increased expectations. Hey! You raised the bar, now clear it!
If you got the mojo, more power to you! Now, do something that matters with it.