Monday marked the ten year anniversary of one of the greatest TV shows of all-time, Friday Night Lights. Set in West Texas to the tune of Explosions in the Sky, FNL tells the story of the Dillon Panthers Football team (and eventually the East Dillon Lions). The show captured the hearts of America in an unconventional way. The majority didn’t tune in when the show aired on NBC for two seasons and Network 101 (I’m still not sure I believe that is a real channel) for its final three, but thanks to Netflix and other streaming services, almost everyone has taken in the glory that is Friday Night Lights.
The show had something for everyone. Whether it was heartfelt family drama, testosterone-fueled football moments, romance stories, life lessons (usually given from Coach Taylor), or comic relief, the show had it all. For a show that gave us so much, it seems fitting and necessary to compile and relive some of the greatest moments of the series.
*A few caveats before we jump into the tribute. First, this is not put in any particular order, but rather, just ten really dope things that happened on the show. Second, some of them are moments, but some of them are just things that consistently happened. So, without further ado, a tribute to Friday Night Lights.
Matt Saracen beats out Voodoo
Every show needs a few assholes and season one gave us one of the biggest in Voodoo Tatum. The Katrina displaced QB was brought in by Buddy Garrity (the best damn booster on the planet; more on this later) when All-American QB Jason Street went down with a career-ending injury. Young and squeamish, Matt Saracen was forced to fill the role but he just didn’t seem ready. Buddy helped get Voodoo to town and it looked like it would be his team moving forward. The problem was that Voodoo didn't seem to fit with the culture that first-year coach Eric Taylor was trying to build. He was constantly butting heads with Coach and talking shit to his teammates, in short, he was the worst. In the end, the job was won by the show’s most endearing character, Saracen (#7), who went on to lead the Panthers to a state title.
Landry and Tyra Kill a Guy
Most high schoolers idea of tomfoolery is sneaking out and getting hammered or vandalizing their school, but not Landry and Tyra. Their idea of some risky high school shenanigans was f--king murdering someone! After the murder, they went into full cover-up mode that was eventually capped by Landry’s father (David Palmer’s excellent Secret Service Agent from 24) destroying evidence. This storyline was beyond far-fetched and corny but I do not care. These two knuckleheads taught us how to get away with murder long before the ABC show, and the best part is that after the second season it is never heard or spoken of again.
Coach Taylor Throws Saracen into a shower
In possibly the most emotive scene of the show, Coach Taylor gives some tough love to the quarterback of the Panthers. Things were not going well for Saracen. His dad was serving in the military overseas, his girl (Coach’s daughter Julie) dumped him, and Coach Taylor had left for a college job (at this point he was back coaching at Dillon). All these factors lead to him drinking himself into oblivion with Riggins, showing up to practice wasted, and calling his sweet art teacher a bitch. After watching from afar for too long Coach T decided it was time to step in. Like every great motivational speech, it starts with Coach throwing Saracen into the shower fully clothed. Saracen lists all of the ways that his life sucks and then states, “Everybody leaves me! What’s wrong with me?” In one of the most heartwarming moments in television, Coach Taylor seamlessly shifts his tone from gruff to tender and says, “There’s nothing wrong with ya,… there’s nothing wrong with ya at all.”
Riggins Goes to Mexico
One of the things that make typical high school dramas so good is how they do things that are not possible for high schoolers in real life. FNL is full of things like this but my personal favorite is when Riggins inexplicably heads down to Mexico with Street for a doctor’s appointment. Riggins skipped town for a few weeks and missed two games, several practices, and a bunch of school days. Riggs spends the duration of his time south of the border guzzling brewskis and convincing Street to make “memories” which actually means bad decisions, and then heads home like nothing ever happened. By the time he finally saunters back into the fold, Coach Taylor is back at Dillon and Riggins locker is empty. After some convincing from Smash and Billy (and some ass-kissing of his own) Riggins was back on the Panthers in no time.
Buddy Garrity Tribute
Everybody’s favorite local booster and car salesman is none other than Buddy Garrity. There is no one in the show who embodies the love for Texas football quite like Buddy. He doesn’t have a son on the team or any real reason to be invested in them, but Buddy just loves the game and loves to win. Whether he’s out recruiting displaced Katrina victims to provide a competitive advantage or wheeling around practice in a f--king golf cart, Buddy is all Texas football, all the time. His personal life has several ups and downs but his commitment to Coach Taylor and football never wane. Buddy was a necessary and awesome ingredient to the show and his contribution to the what makes the aura of Texas football so unique can hardly be overstated.
Coach Taylor and Tami download/unpacking sessions
If there was ever a power couple worth looking up to it is these two love birds. If Coach and Tami put out a book on relational intimacy and parenting it would be a NY Times Bestseller. Their relationship is the moral center of the show. Every red-blooded American man wants to be Coach, while every woman wants to be Tami. Throughout the series, they have many ups and downs but through conversation and commitment, they always remain fortified. There are several scenes that depict Coach and Tami working through their differences, most of them are at night in bed or in the morning around the breakfast table/kitchen. Watching them unpack issues is some of the best drama this show delivers and it wouldn’t have made it five seasons without it. Their beautiful relationship is capped off perfectly in the final season when Coach puts his dreams aside for Tami’s dream job and they head off to Philadelphia as strong as ever.
Riggins calling everyone by their jersey number
An oft forgotten element of the Tim Riggins experience was his insistence on referring to his gridiron comrades by their jersey number. Whether it was “Six”, for Street, or “Two-Zero” for Smash, Riggins never relented from his commitment to refer to his friends numerically. While this might seem arbitrary, it was a vital ingredient to the bro concoction that was Tim Riggins. He exemplified everything that was pure Texas football and his refusal to call his teammates by anything other than the number on their uni is a hilarious and vivid illustration of just how cool this guy was. Riggs was a simple man in all the best ways, he loved football, beer, women (Lyla), friends, family, and living in Texas. If he had called his boys by anything other than their jersey numbers it just wouldn’t have been right.
Dillon almost wins state
It's very rare that a sports movie or tv show can pull off a loss as being equally, or in this case, even more, epic than a win. After getting their asses handed to them in the first half by the Titans, Coach Taylor makes the switch at QB from local punk-ass freshman, J.D. McCoy back to old faithful, Matt Saracen. After a furious comeback and 28 unanswered points, the Panthers had the lead with a little over a minute left. All that work and determination were lost when the Titans nailed a game-winning field goal as time expired. After the game, Coach Taylor had all the families join the team in the locker room and shared that he had never been so proud of a group. As cliche as that may sound, there was no doubting that was actually how Coach felt because as the viewer, we did too.
East Dillon: Coach Taylor and Vince
When the show took the plot route of switching Coach Taylor to the downtrodden East Dillon Lions I wasn’t sure it would work. Seeing Coach in different colors than blue and gold just felt wrong. It did not take long for that to change. Probably the biggest reason for this was the emergence of Vince, played by the now famous Michael B. Jordan. For one, his acting was convincing and sincere but more than that his story was deep and compelling. A poor kid who already had run-ins with the law, you just couldn’t help but root for him.
Vince’s defining scene is between him and Coach Taylor in the fifth season. All season Coach had been attempting to call Vince to a higher standard, to be a “man of character.” Feeling overwhelmed by the high standards Vince gives an emotionally charged rant that ends with him saying that no one was ever around to teach him how to be better. Not his father, not his drug addict mother, no one. In true Coach Taylor fashion, in a firm yet tender voice, he tells young Vince, all he will ever ask of him is to try.
East Dillon Wins State
In the final episode of FNL East Dillon takes home the state title. As Vince hoists a hail mary we are fast forwarded several months ahead. Coach Taylor is on the practice field with a team in Philadelphia where his family has moved, East Dillon has closed but we see the banner of Texas State Champions being removed from the scoreboard. The Lions had done it. The win was so satisfying for Coach Taylor who revitalized a dead program and equally as rewarding to see Vince, the guy with all the odds stacked against him become a champion.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't Lose.