As the college and professional football seasons lumber toward their conclusion, I couldn’t help but recall and then watch the brilliant TV series “Friday Night Lights,” a wonderful program about high school football in Texas.
The series’ setting, Dillon, is a small town in rural Texas—not unlike my high school days in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The show uses this backdrop to address many issues facing contemporary American culture, including family values, school funding, racism, drugs, abortion, and a lack of economic opportunities for many young people in the countryside.
Season One revolves around two main events: Coach Eric Taylor’s arrival as head coach of the Dillon Panthers and the injury and paralysis of star quarterback Jason Street in the first game of the season. Coach Taylor’s career depends on his ability to get the team to the state championship despite the loss of Street. More important, Street has to deal with life in a wheelchair.
Similar conflicts and drama weave their way through the five years of the series. The individual stories of the characters that surround the town and the team provide a superb view of flyover country.
Some notable characters include Matt Saracen, who takes care of his aging grandmother without any help from his parents. His father is fighting in Iraq and eventually dies in a later season.
Tim Riggins is a hulking running back with a serious drinking problem and an older brother who gets involved in illegal schemes.
The coach’s wife, Tami, serves as a mother, high school guidance counselor, and principal who balances personal and professional lives throughout the five seasons.
Simply put, the characters behind the game provide much more interesting tales than the athletics. That’s true about almost all sports—something that we tend to forget as we cheer on our favorites.
It’s ironic for me that the coach and his wife end up in Philadelphia, where high school football has some rowdy fans but hardly compare with those of Texas small towns or South Dakota for that matter.
The series ends with Eric coaching a high school team in Philadelphia. After practice, Eric recites his constant exhortation from Texas: “Clear eyes, full hearts…” After not getting the normal response of “Can’t lose,” he says, “We’ll deal with that later.”
“Friday Night Lights” is definitely worth the time at Amazon or Hulu, particularly when your team isn’t winning.