Last Friday, more than 3.5 million people tuned in to watch Friday Night Lights conclude after five memorable seasons. It didn't really hit me until the next morning that there would be no more Friday Night Lights. I know one other person who is as into the show as I am, and he is responsible for introducing it to me.
To be completely honest, I didn't give FNL a chance when my roommate, Mark Torosian, fellow BR contributor, told me I had to watch it. I put up a fight until finally I gave in. He had the first two seasons on DVD, which consisted of about 35 episodes between the two. It took all of about six minutes to pull me in and I've been hooked since that day three years ago. If you have watched the show, you more than likely know what I'm talking about. If FNL doesn't reach out and pull you in, you're either a robot or asleep on the couch.
So the pilot opens with a lot of player interviews, highlighting quarterback Jason Street, running back Brian "Smash" Williams, and fullback Tim Riggins. They also give you your first glimpse at Head Coach of the Dillon Panthers, Eric Taylor.
Jason Street is the boy with the golden arm. He's the top high school prospect as a Senior, and over the course of the episode you come to learn he planned on spending his college days in South Bend at Notre Dame. He is dating the head cheerleader, Lila Garrity, played by Minka Kelly [So obviously Derek Jeter was a fan of the show from the beginning].
"Smash" Williams is the flashy, talented running back who talks as much as Shaq, James Harrison, and Terrell Owens put together. There is an obvious rift between Williams and Tim Riggins.
Riggins is the fullback and the long-haired Sophomore with a full fledged drinking problem. There are striking similarities between Riggins and Donnie Billingsley from the film version of Friday Night Lights. Riggins is quoted saying that no matter who he was or where he came from, he wouldn't like "Smash" Williams. Then there is Coach Eric Taylor, who goes by Coach or Coach T. Watch the interviews here:
As the rising action continues and the game nears closer, you can't help but feel nervous for the team. You see as Jason Street getting interviewed at the local diner. You meet Matt Saracen, who eventually becomes the starting quarterback, yet hasn't seen a meaningful snap since Pop Warner. You get the sense that this community, as I've heard and read it before, lives and breathes with their high school football. Texas High School Football is unlike any other high school football.
Cut to the opening game...Dillon is trailing a team that they have no business losing to. Halftime comes and goes and next thing you know it is the fourth quarter and Dillon has the ball and is looking to score with Jason Street at the helm.
Then suddenly the opposition intercepts his pass and everyone is scrambling to keep the defense from taking it back for six. Street is the last line of defense. He goes to make a play and makes the tackle but leads with his head. The ball is knocked loose, the Panthers recover, but Street is not moving.
Minutes go by, players kneel to the turf and join hands. Not a word is uttered by one of the thousands there in attendance. The ambulance comes and all you hear is the screaming of Jason Street's terrified mother. He is rushed to the hospital, but there is still game left to play.
Matt Saracen has to step in. After several plays that end with bad calls, sacks, passes thrown off his linemen, Saracen rights the ship and throws a beautiful touchdown pass and the Panthers escape with a win.
But Saracen's big moment is overshadowed by the horribly tragedy that has befallen the team and community. They show doctors cutting Street's helmet off and his girlfriend alone crying in the hallway. It's a sad sight, and terrifying as someone who has played sports and seen those types of things happen.
In the waning minutes of the pilot, you see the entire team in the hospital lobby, you see Coach T come in and hug Jason's parents and hold his hand. The kid who would've been the star of the team and probably the show goes from leading a game-winning drive to being paralyzed in a matter of moments. It rips your heart out and you don't know how to react. The episode is only an hour long! At this point, I was completely sold. It gives me chills to listen to the speech that Coach T gives as the pilot draws to an end.
Listen to it here:
I've followed FNL stronger and more closely than any other television show I've ever seen. Being an athlete and someone who love sports, it appeals to that side of you, and also the side of you who knows what being a teenager feels like, the choices and situations you come across in life, and the show brings both of those together beautifully.
Friday Night Lights is socially relevant for taking on those topics head first as well. Over its five seasons I have watched tragedy strike more than once with the star quarterback being paralyzed, the death of Matt Saracen's father, Tim Riggins heart being broken by his father who is never there, murder, physical abuse and attempted rape, adultery, abortion, prison and marriage.
Coach is referred to by his wife Tami as a "Molder of men," and a magazine in the fifth season calls him "The Kingmaker." He is an incredible surrogate father or father figure to these high school boys who have no one in their lives to fill that role elsewhere in several cases. What makes him so great is that his coaching far overreaches the football field. His players' lives were what was most important to Coach. Kyle Chandler is now my favorite actor.
Tim Riggins gets a million bad breaks, but he comes back stronger after each one. Whether it's Tim blaming himself for Street getting hurt, or his father not wanting anything to do with him, or falling in love more than once with women who doesn't love him back, or him taking the fall for things that he had no part of, or him going to prison in his brother Billy's place so Billy wouldn't have to be away from his wife Mindy and their little boy Stevie. Tim Riggins is without a doubt my favorite character in the show because not only does he go through more than anyone else, but his outlook on life never seems to take a dampening in the end. The show ends with Tim and Billy working on the house Tim wanted to build on his land. That is the picture you're seeing with the article. Jason Street is behind them, in his wheelchair.
If you've seen the show before and are a fan, I recommend you check out this article on Bill Simmons' Grantland website that details how the show came together: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6766070/clear-eyes-full-hearts-lose.
I hope you enjoyed reading, and if you haven't seen Friday Night Lights before, please give it a shot. You won't regret it, and I will promise you that.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.