Anyone who knows much about sports is surely aware of how big a deal high school football in the state of Texas. However, even if you don’t follow sports (like me), you might have picked up that fact thanks to Friday Night Lights — a book, film, and TV show that actually plays a small role in ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary, What Carter Lost. While FNL chronicles the 1988 Permian Panthers, What Carter Lost looks across the Lonestar State to tell the story of the 1988 Carter Cowboys and their tumultuous post-season.

On the eve of their first playoff game of that season, an anonymous tip brought officials to Carter High School to investigate a player’s eligibility. Initially, the revelation of a potentially changed grade saw Carter pulled from the playoff schedule. Later, that decision would be temporarily overturned, setting off what would prove a long and stormy legal battle. With every passing day and every subsequent game, it was never clear whether Carter would be able to play or if their wins would even count. Of course… that’s only half of the story.

Like with other 30 for 30 films, What Carter Lost is not just about sports — it’s about athletes, their families, their communities, and about life in general. In the case of the 1988 Carter Cowboys, it’s about making mistakes and the immense consequences that our misguided decisions can have. I won’t go too much into detail but, suffice to say, this team’s story is certainly worthy of the 30 for 30 treatment it gets.

Having gone into the film blind, I was really surprised by the ride it took me on. In fact, when what I thought would be the climax arrived, I realized I was literally only half way done. This structure, brilliantly executed by director Adam Hootnick, is no accident as it perfectly sets up the audience to feel, albeit on a much smaller level, the same shock and disappointment the team must have felt nearly three decades ago.

While I haven’t seen nearly all of ESPN’s 30 for 30s, I have yet to see a bad one. What Carter Lost certainly continues that streak and may even rank among my favorite entries alongside Fantastic LiesThe Two Escobars, and Winning Time (the Oscar-winning O.J.: Made in America stands in its own class). Needless to say, even if you don’t have any interest in high school football, football in general, or… well… sports, I’d recommend checking out the fascinating story of What Carter Lost.

What Carter Lost airs Thursday, August 24th at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Enjoy What Carter Lost and other great titles in the 30 for 30 Documentary library with a subscription to ESPN+.

 
 

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