Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. I just finished Friday Night Lights and I must say, it’s one the best shows I’ve ever seen. It is set in the small fictional town of Dillon, Texas and addresses many issues that plague our society today (i.e., abortion, family values, school funding, race relations, lack of economic opportunity, drug use, etc.,). The writers do a good job of creating characters that are relatable and loveable, despite their (sometimes) glaring flaws. While the show is loosely based on football, it is about much more than that. It is about family, faith, friendship and a sense of belonging.
Families are tested, football is played, and lives are truly changed in a small Texas town that exudes charm and community. Coach Taylor and his wife, Tami are loved and revered by many, and in my (humble) opinion are the backbone of the show. Coach Taylor is firm but fair, and is said to be a “molder of men.” While he is brusque and tough on the football field, he is loving and kind towards his family and would do anything to ensure that they want and need for nothing. The love he has for his wife is unmatched and he would go to the ends of the earth to make her happy, which in this case is Philadelphia, PA. For 18 years, Tami Taylor has happily (for the most part) supported her husband’s dream of being a high school football coach; and while she is happy being a wife and a mom, she has dreams of her own. She is a remarkable high school counselor and will stop at nothing to ensure that her students believe in themselves and get the opportunities they so deserve. She never views any of her students as a lost cause, regardless of SES or their (sometimes extensive) history; she is someone that anyone would be lucky to have in their corner, and trust me, she’s in a lot of corners! The resident “bad-boy,” Tim Riggins was a breakout star and a character that you couldn’t help but root for. Oftentimes he drank too much and had less academic drive than any one person I’ve ever seen, but he was real and raw and just needed to be loved (and boy was he). He had relationships with Tyra and Lyla (and numerous other rally girls) and while I think Lyla brought out a side of Tim that we hadn’t really seen, I am happy with the way their story ended. In the long-run I think Tim was too simple for her. She had big dreams and he couldn’t get out of college fast enough. His motto was “Texas Forever” and that’s exactly what he wants. Of all of the characters on the show, his growth and development was the most extensive (IMO); and while the show didn’t give Tim a relationship endgame, I think Tyra will come back for him. She certainly has dreams of her own, but I think a part of her dream has Tim in it; after all, she’s been in love with him since she was 5 years old (awwwww).
Julie Taylor, Coach’s eldest daughter was a bit of a mess at times (the Sweed, the married TA, the strip club fiasco, her crappy attitude). Her behavior was less than flattering and she was notorious for telling her parents “NO” and walking out when she didn’t want to hear what they had to say. I don’t know about you, but that would have never happened in my household. Julie dated the star QB (Matt Saracen) while in high school but left him for someone else (mistake). She went off to college, made some mistakes (the married TA) but eventually reconciled with Matt. After some back and forth they realized that they couldn’t live without each other and got engaged in front of the Alamo Freeze in the series finale. I know what you’re thinking, “holy cow, they’re too young, they’re not ready for marriage”…and while I would typically agree with that, I honestly feel like they are their best selves when they are together. Who knows where they actually end up, but I would like to believe that Julie figured things out and that they lived happily ever after! Matt Saracen was thrust into the spotlight when Jason Street went down due to a spinal injury in the first episode of the series. He was significantly less talented than the highly touted Street, and the folks in Dillon made no bones about letting that fact be known. However, despite the criticism, Coach Taylor worked with Matt and helped instill a confidence in him that he never had. Matt had a sweet spirit and loved his grandmother, Lorraine, more than anything. She was suffering from the beginning stages of dementia and it only got worse as the seasons progressed. After being involved in a QB controversy, he eventually moved to wide receiver and finished out his career with the Dillon Panthers and left football behind for good. Instead of attending a renowned art school in Chicago, he chose to stay close to home so that he wouldn’t lose Julie (and he’d be close to his grandma). He eventually left (with no warning at all) and chased his dream; and as I mentioned above, after some back and forth, he and Julie reconciled and were last seen living together in Chicago!
In Season 4, the school board decided that East Dillon High would be reopened and that many of the students that attended Dillon High would have to transfer due to zoning restrictions. East Dillon High was seen by many as a “ghetto” school that was on the wrong side of town. While the board was prepping to reopen East Dillon High, the Dillon Panthers decided not to renew Coach Taylor’s contract, despite his recent success. The boosters, namely Joe McCoy, pushed the school board to hire Wade Aikmen, JD McCoy’s (Saracen’s replacement) personal QB coach for the head coaching job instead of Taylor. As a consolation, Coach Taylor was offered the same job at East Dillon where he met a group of troubled kids that just needed some love and a second chance. Vince Howard was running out of options fast; his mom was on drugs and his dad was in prison, he didn’t have much to look forward to and after being picked up by the cops (again), he was given a choice: football or jail. With some tough love, umpteen dozen motivational speeches, and a
little bit lot of guidance from Coach Taylor, Vince looked primed for a comeback. While things seemed to be sorting themselves out in Vince’s life, his mom was still strung out and needed more help than what Vince could afford. He made the choice to ask his old gang buddies for the money to put his mom in rehab. His intentions were pure and noble, but caused a great internal struggle for Vince as he was trying to leave that life behind. In the end, he walked away for good. His mom eventually got out of rehab, found a job and became the loving mother we all knew she could be. Just as things started looking up for Vince, his dad got out of prison and made weaseled his way back into the family. After much dismay, Vince decided to give his dad another chance; and after a while, that proved to be a mistake. Constant comments of how Vince was the STAR of the show inflated his ego to new heights and drove a wedge between he and his teammates (Coach & Jess included). Eventually Vince realized that his dad was falling back into old habits and decided to keep him at a safe distance from his family, his friends and his future football career. Despite being disappointed by his dad’s actions, Jess Merriweather was a constant (for the most part) positive in Vince’s life; she loved how mature he had become and loved seeing him succeed. Of course like any couple they had their differences; he was none too pleased when Jess joined the football team as the equipment manager. This certainly caused them to argue, but Vince soon realized that he wasn’t the same guy without her in his corner. The series ends with Vince Quarterbacking for the Panthers super team and Jess helping coach the Dallas Walker High School football team. While Jess and Vince may not end up together, the impression they left with each other, will never be forgotten.
Luke Cafferty was primed to be a star for the Dillon Panthers but was forced to transfer to East Dillon when it was discovered that he was using a fake address to ensure zoning for the desirable West side high school. He saw football as his only way out of a town that offered him nothing but a future in cattle-ranching. Upon arriving at his new school, he was discouraged to see a group of guys that had minimal talent and bad attitudes. The Lions had less than desirable facilities and no proper equipment to speak of…a far cry from the luxuries that the Dillon Panthers were able to provide. Luke and Vince got off to a rough start; but after a few altercations, a stolen wallet, a couple of hours in jail, and a long walk home, they put their differences aside and grew to love and respect one another. Luke achieved success on and off the field but had a hard time getting Becky Sproles to give him the (proper) time of day. They had a one-night stand and Becky found herself pregnant. While Luke was willing to do whatever he could for Becky and the baby, Becky didn’t want anything to do with him and ran to Tim Riggins (who she was in love with) for help. She hadn’t told her mom and was just planning to “take care of it.” Sensing that she needed someone (other than him) to talk to, he took her to see Coach’s wife. Tami offered Becky a safe place to talk things through and went over all of the options that were available to her. Ultimately Becky decided to have an abortion (her plan all along). Luke’s mother was less than pleased with Becky’s decision and pinned it on Tami, ultimately getting her fired from her job as principal of West Dillon High. This caused tension between Luke and Becky for several months, but she FINALLY gave in and started dating Luke in the final season of the series. As Luke goes off to join the military, he is seen giving Becky his state championship ring for her to hold onto until he returns!
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS — “Always” Episode 513 — Pictured: Brad Leland as Buddy Garrity — Photo by: Bill Records/NBC
Along with all of the characters mentioned above, there were some other faces that were loved and well-known throughout the series. Buddy Garrity, the president of the Dillon Panthers Booster Club and friend to Coach Taylor was seen (in the beginning) as someone who was borderline intrusive when it came to all things Panthers Football. He was concerned with game plans, star players, and getting back to State! He owned a well-known car dealership near the school and had 3 children. While he had a few less than stellar moments (i.e., cheating on his wife, getting a divorce, the landing strip incident, etc.,) he was a good friend to Eric (and Tami) and loved his kids more than he could put into words. When Eric was ousted as the coach of the Panthers, Buddy eventually went over to East Dillon and helped create a buzz about a team that didn’t have much to buzz about. He stood behind Eric as he transformed that program and those kids; he wasn’t perfect, but he was Buddy, and you have to love him for that! Lyla Garrity, Buddy’s eldest daughter was a Panthers Cheerleader and was madly in love with the star QB, Jason Street. She was smart, cheery, and popular and had her future with Jason all planned out. Unfortunately, Jason was injured in the first game of his senior year and the dreams she had seemed to be rapidly slipping away from her. While Jason was in the hospital, Lyla and Tim (Jason’s best friend) started sleeping together (not their best moment) and eventually Street found out. He broke up with Lyla and ended his friendship with Tim. They were both remorseful (to a degree) about what they had done and eventually the relationships were restored. In the end, Jason and Lyla ended up with different people entirely. Jason ended up in New York, after a one-night stand turned relationship blessed him with the son he thought he could never have; and Lyla ended up with Tim Riggins. You could tell that Tim had always been in love with Lyla and as I mentioned before, she brought out a side of him that we hadn’t seen before. Lyla went off to Vanderbilt for college and while a piece of them will always be with the other, I think it was for the best! Brian “Smash” Williams was the loud, flashy, and insanely talented running back for the Dillon Panthers. He was desperate to be a top recruit and would stop at nothing to ensure a spot playing for a top-ten team. His yearning to be better than all the rest landed him in the middle of a steroid controversy. Coach Taylor was disappointed (to say the least) and suspended him from the team. He worked tirelessly to earn his starting spot back and promised to be the man Coach Taylor knew him to be. Upon graduation, a knee injury derailed his college plans and he started working at the Alamo Freeze full-time. Coach Taylor kept his word and worked with him day and night to get him ready for a walk-on tryout at texas A&M, where he was eventually offered a spot on their team!
Tyra Collette and Landry Clark were two characters that (eventually) made an unlikely pair. Tyra was a popular girl with a rebellious streak that you couldn’t help but love. She didn’t care about football and was deadest on leaving Dillon and her dysfunctional family drama behind. She dated Tim Riggins off and on for years before giving the good guy (Landry) a try. Landry Clark, Matt Saracen’s best friend and certified “nerd” was in love with Tyra and would do anything for her (i.e., killing a man). He helps restore her confidence (academically) and her self-esteem. He shows her that there’s more to her than just a pretty face and a hot body. He loves her for all that she is and believes that she can do anything she sets her mind to. In the end, Tyra and Landry go their separate ways; Tyra ends up at UT and Landry heads off to Rice University. Unlike Tyra and Landry, Billy Riggins and Mindy Collette are the definition of a likely pair. Billy is Tim’s older brother and is often thought of as a bad influence. He’s constantly drinking and partying, but turns things around in the later seasons when he tries to get Tim into college on a football scholarship. Mindy is Tyra’s older sister and works as a stripper at the Landing Strip. She marries Billy Riggins and they have their first child, Steven. As the show raps up, you see Billy and Mindy preparing to welcome two new babies as they are pregnant with twins!
Friday Night Lights is a great story of family, faith and friendship. There’s small-town charm laced with southern dialect and a cast full of beautiful people. If you’re looking for football, heartache, triumph, and a good southern drawl, then look no further, Friday Night Lights is for you! A small town like Dillon may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly for me! Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!