That football sailing through last-minute skies landing months down the road in the arms of a future worth far more than six points and a ring: a new personal favorite story moment that encapsulates so much of what I loved about Friday Night Lights.
I liked the first film, especially (spoilers ahead), the gritty ending. You don’t always win; in fact, much of life is learning how to adjust to not winning. But the pilot of the television series knocked me over…still does. Maybe it’s the fact that Peter Berg and company got the West Texas culture so right. It’s strange to watch a television show chronicling the world of your childhood, especially one that manages to get into the crevices and cracks of relationships and environment. The small town, the football fever, the lone BBQ joint, the tiny houses, the grandmother fading lovingly into dementia, the inarticulate back-up quarterback, the jock who drinks who turns out to have a deeper soul. As I write that, it all seems cliched, but it’s just not. Nor is it over-romanticized. Sure, I’ll admit the FNL world is not a dark place, and it’s true that some folks get stuck in the heat, the dust, and the disappointment in such a fashion that small-town Texas becomes terrible and life-crushing. One detractor I know (yes, there are some) went so far as to complain that people like Coach Taylor (and Tami) don’t exist. Well, I know that’s not true–I’ve known more than one Coach Taylor through the years, each of them making just the kind of difference Coach Taylor makes.
Maybe it was the acting. I recall seeing perhaps a handful of false notes over the five seasons, but so much of it was seamless. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton were spot-on, though it was Britton who regularly took my breath away, most often in scenes with her daughter, Aimee Teegarden’s character Julie. Taylor Kitsch (Riggins), Zach Gilford (Matt), Jesse Plemons (Landry), Adrianne Palicki (Tyra), Matt Lauria (Luke), Michael B. Jordan (Vince)…the list is pretty stellar. So many beautiful moments as these characters respond to the tests they’re given. I’m remembering the gist of Coach Taylor’s voice over speech at the end of the pilot episode as Jason Street (played by Scott Porter) goes down with a crippling neck injury. “We will be tested.”
Perhaps that’s what rings both true and false about FNL. These people are tested, and most of them fail along the way. But what we get to see is that mistakes need not be forever, sins need not cripple a life, and the hammer blows of circumstance cannot destroy the fire-forged steel called faith. Failed dreams, broken marriages, bone-head decisions, seedy lifestyles, prison terms–none of them are excuses to stop believing that the good in the world always has a chance to come back. Moments of beauty stream towards us constantly. And while such moments are not always fully redemptive (what will Vince’s Dad’s life be after the game for State is over), they are there. They stand as evidence that in a world where everyday can seem like a war, there is always the chance that today will be the day that you make that touch or that move that will lead again to six points, and another win.
So at the end of the run, it’s the start of another season. Love is in the air, possibility sits in the faces of all those young players looking at their new coach, and we just have a sense that these characters will move on in an honest and realistic hope, a hope that’s the result of that mysterious combination of effort and grace. That hope will not disappoint them. Somehow, FNL helped me get a glimpse of what the Apostle Paul meant when he talking of taking joy in his suffering. He said “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character, hope.”
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.