Life Lessons from Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights is an American drama television series about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas. The show aired on NBC from 2006 to 2011 and was produced by Jason Katims. It takes place over one season as the Panthers attempt to rebuild their program with new coach Billy Hargrove, who learns his players are more interested in partying than playing after he alienates them by trying to ban alcohol at practices and games.,

The “friday night lights summary” is a book about the fictional town of Dillon, Texas. It follows high school football coach Eric Taylor and his team as they try to win their first championship in over 20 years. The book is based on the life lessons learned by the characters in the story.

These days, there aren’t many television series that represent guys in a good manner. On sitcoms, men are generally either bumbling idiots or cartoonishly macho. On TV dramas, it’s not much better. While I can refer to novels or movies that have inspired me to be a better man, I find it difficult to do so with today’s small-screen choices.

Friday Night Lights on NBC is a welcome exception. Friday Night Lights is a football show that isn’t actually about football. FNL is based on the book and film of the same name, and it chronicles the lives of head football coach Eric Taylor and his family, as well as the players he coaches and a slew of other people, in the fictitious town of Dillon, Texas.

Kate and I were a bit late to the FNL party. Although the series premiered in 2006, we didn’t begin watching till 2010. We’d heard good things about FNL’s script and performances, but we never got around to seeing it. We rented the previous seasons and began watching the program from the beginning when Gus was born. We were completely sucked in. It was easy to forget that these weren’t actual people since the acting and writing were so genuine. We said our last goodbyes to our Dillon friends a few months later as we watched the series’ final episode.

There’s a lot I could say about what has quickly become my all-time favorite television program. But it was the portrayal of the guys in Dillon, Texas that struck me the most about the program. By any measure of the imagination, they weren’t flawless. They were human, and they made mistakes, sometimes egregiously. Despite their flaws, the majority of them aspired to be better men and do the right thing.

Friday Night Lights helped me become a better guy, something I never imagined I’d say about a TV program.

The show taught me a lot about how to be a better guy, but here are a few of the more important ones. Do yourself a favor and watch the program if you haven’t already. Stop reading this and go to Netflix to rent it. I don’t want to ruin the show for you, so I’ve included some spoilers. Please join me as we discuss lessons in manliness from Friday Night Lights if you’ve watched the program. 

Take pleasure in the role of the underdog

Coach standing in the middle of field.

“Nothing will be able to stop Matt Saracen. You can’t squash him like a small stinkbug. He’ll be alright because he’s tough.” — Coach Taylor on Matt Saracen, quarterback

I like a good underdog tale, and FNL is chock-full of them. After star quarterback Jason Street suffers a crippling injury in the first season, sophomore Matt Saracen is catapulted into the primary quarterback role. Saracen and the team’s hopes for a state championship are written off by the whole community. Matt, on the other hand, disproves the doubters by quietly guiding his team to a state title.

 

Coach Taylor is fired from his position as head coach at Dillon High and granted the head coaching job at East Dillon, a school in the poorer side of town that is reopening after years of closure. The deteriorating facilities, lack of finance, and scarcity of experienced players eliminate any possibility of a state championship, much alone a winning season. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Coach Taylor loves his status as the underdog and views it as an opportunity to improve as a coach. Coach Taylor had to spend more time focusing on the fundamentals and fostering enthusiasm and teamwork in his players rather than depending on expensive equipment and facilities. What’s the end result? An unexpected state title after a year of rebuilding.

Always enjoy the underdog role, whether it’s in sports or business. It keeps you hungry and modest at the same time. It liberates you from the scrutiny and expectations of others, allowing you to do things your way, be innovative, and bootstrap your business. Most importantly, it compels you to concentrate on the basics. Rather of viewing being the underdog as a negative, embrace it as a chance to grow as a man.

A man must reconcile himself with his father.

Matt Saracen burying dad funeral with mullet.

“My mother pleaded with me to forgive him and to be a better person. And you expect me to improve. He never taught me how to be better, therefore I don’t know how to be better!” –Vince Howard, speaking about his father

No guy has a greater influence in a man’s life than his father. His effect is undeniable, for better or worse. He is the epitome of masculinity for us. Few things in a man’s life inspire greater emotions than his connection with his father. Every boy, I believe, aspires to have a wonderful father. He wants a guy who will defend him when things go bump in the night, show him how to break in a baseball glove and shave, offer him advise on ladies, and later on become a buddy and confidant. No father can live up to his children’s expectations 100 percent of the time, but when a father fails to be present for his son at all, it may leave emotional scars that he will carry into adulthood. Coming to terms with their father’s relationship is the most difficult step young men must take on the road to manhood.

FNL did an excellent job of portraying the occasionally tense connection between parent and son. The majority of the players had problems with their fathers. Smash Williams, a running back in season one, must reconcile with his deceased father. Tim Riggins’ father abruptly awoke and abandoned him and his sibling. He attempts to reconnect with his father, still hoping that he can be the parent he’s always wanted, but he discovers that he’s a deadbeat, so he goes on. Vince Howard deals with his ex-con drug-dealing father getting out of prison and returning home in the final season.

 

Matt Saracen is possibly the most heartbreaking example of a young guy coming to terms with his father’s relationship. Matt’s mother abandoned him when he was young, and his father is a career soldier who has spent much of Matt’s childhood on deployments, leaving him alone to care for his senile grandmother and requiring him to mature quicker than other boys his age. Matt and his father do not get along when Matt’s father comes home, as Matt is plagued with furious sentiments of abandonment.

Matt is forced to come to terms with the guy he pretends to despise when his father returns to Iraq and is killed in action. We got to see him go through all of the phases of bereavement. He doesn’t forgive his father in the end. Instead, he burys his father’s connection, both metaphorically and physically, and goes on with his life.

Coming to terms with your father’s relationship means various things to different guys. If you had a nice connection with your father, it could entail learning to view him as a man rather than a larger-than-life figure. Coming to terms with your father/son connection doesn’t need you to feel good about him or even reconcile with him if you had a rocky relationship with him. Accepting the terrible relationship, learning from it, and moving on with your life without it weighing you down is all it takes.

Manliness should be cultivated.

Coach Taylor Vince giving instructions to footballers.

“First and foremost, you are a teacher, and you are a man-molder.” — Tami Taylor to Eric Taylor, her husband

Coach Taylor was a big fan of winning football games. Even more satisfying was witnessing the young athletes he mentored evolve and develop into decent, strong guys. Coach Taylor was well aware that many of his young players saw him as a mentor and father figure in addition to a coach. Eric Taylor didn’t seek for that job, but he accepted it because he realized that the finest thing a man can do is nurture and parent young men into manhood.

In the episode, there are several instances of players knocking on Coach Taylor’s door in the middle of the night, seeking assistance and guidance. Coach Taylor, without fail, took them in. He didn’t coddle his players or treat them with child gloves. He expected perfection from his players and would strongly reprimand them if they didn’t reach their full potential on and off the field.

To completely mature as men, we need mentors. However, at some point, it becomes our job to become mentors and pass on the skill of manliness to others. The benefit of mentoring is that the mentor often gains more from the connection than the mentee. “You may never know how proud I am of you,” Coach Taylor tells Vince Howard, a former juvie turned great quarterback, in the show’s last episode. “You altered my life, Coach,” Vince responds. That is the legacy.

 

A Man Seeks Atonement

Boy stand together with senior man.

“Every guy will lose a war at some time in his life.” He is going to fight, and he will lose. But what makes him a man is that he does not lose himself in the thick of the conflict. This game isn’t done, and the fight isn’t over.” — Eric Taylor, Head Coach

Each season has a redemption theme running through it. Several of the characters encountered difficulties as a result of their own decisions as well as poor luck. Buddy Garrity, the slick-talking auto salesman and booster president, is my favorite example of a guy redeeming himself. I couldn’t tolerate Buddy Garrity when the program originally began. He was nothing more than a scumbag. He was inebriated, had cheated on his wife, and had squandered his daughter’s college money on a disastrous business transaction. Buddy also had a habit of sowing seeds of discord on the squad, causing Coach Taylor unnecessary stress. You could see he did it for the thrill of it. People like that irritate me greatly.

I’ll confess that I was relieved to see Buddy lose his company, his family, and his beloved position as president of the Dillon Panthers booster club. It’s always satisfying to see cosmic justice at work.

Then something unexpected occurred. Buddy Garrity went from being one of my least favorite characters on Friends to being one of my favorites. What is the reason for the change? Buddy was looking for a way to make amends.

Buddy saw his personal crucible as a chance to grow as a person. Buddy swallows his pride and becomes a strong supporter for a competitor of his high school alma mater, the East Dillon Lions, after being kicked out of his beloved Panthers. He starts a new company in the disadvantaged East Dillon neighborhood and easily integrates with the community. He adopts Santiago, a former juvenile delinquent, and becomes a father figure to him. We also get to watch Buddy mend his connection with his estranged son, Buddy, Jr., in the last season. Finally, at Tim Riggins’ parole hearing, he defends a young man he once admired as a football star but now despises as his daughter’s lover, offering him a position at his restaurant and a chance to get back on his feet.

In life, there are such things as second acts. Buddy Garrity is the epitome of this. If you’ve made a mistake in life, be humble and fight like hell to put things right.

Forever Texas

Tim Riggins looking over field and sunset view with girl.

The desire of the young people of Dillon, TX to leave is a reoccurring subject on FNL. The town has entrapped them. They despise the fact that everyone knows all there is to know about them. Despite this, they always return. It’s a part of who they are. They’ll never be able to entirely quit it. That’s a sensation I believe we’ve all had. We want to travel the globe and discover new vistas, but we also need the security and comfort of home and community. We want the anonymity that comes with freedom and a lack of responsibility, but we also need a feeling of place and belonging.

 

Tim Riggins’ slogan is “Texas Forever,” which he repeats throughout the series.

Texas Forever started as a promise Tim and his buddy Jason Street made to each other that they would never leave Texas. But I believe there is more to the phrase. It entails never forgetting your origins. It entails cherishing the community that shaped you into the man you are today.

Keep your roots anchored in sturdy soil no matter where the branches of life lead you. As a guy, it keeps you grounded.

Wife is a man’s closest ally.

Taylor and Tami kissing in kitchen.

“Marriage necessitates maturation. Marriage requires the cooperation of two individuals who will really listen to each other. Most importantly, marriage requires compromise.” — Eric Taylor, Head Coach

While Friday Night Lights seemed to be a football program on the surface, the show’s true heart was Eric and Tami Taylor’s romance. It’s the most realistic portrayal of a happy marriage I’ve ever seen on television. Most TV programs portray marriages in which the woman suffocates and henpeckes the husband, or in which each partner is always on the point of having an affair, or in which the relationship is on the verge of divorce. The Taylors, on the other hand, seemed to be like most married couples I know: solid, happy, and dedicated. They were presented not with the over-the-top drama normally shown on television, but with the ordinary problems that most relationships face, such as juggling work and family, dealing with an unruly adolescent, or simply deciding who would prepare dinner.

The most significant point of contention between Eric and Tami was balancing their separate job goals. Eric aspired to be a football coach. That was his life’s purpose. Tami supported her husband’s goal by relocating from job to job throughout the majority of their marriage. Coach Taylor would not have been as successful as he was without her help. When Tami’s teaching career takes off, however, her own ambitions rapidly become irreconcilable with those of her husband. Expect marital strife and a self-sacrificing compromise in the end.

Despite their disagreements, Tami and Eric remained dedicated to their marriage. They were always able to work out their differences in a loving and respectful manner.

Eric realized that a man’s wife is his closest friend and counsel. When he had an issue with the squad, he’d often seek Tami for her opinion while they lay in bed about to fall asleep. (Kate and I have the same kind of bedtime discussions.) Most married couples, I’m sure, do as well.) He recognized the importance of a marital mastermind. He considered his wife as an equal colleague who was there to help him become the greatest man he could be, not as his inferior or superior.

A man need the assistance of others.

Panthers team celebrating championship in front of crowd.

“There are a few people who will never give up on you. Those are the folks I want in your thoughts when you return to the field. Those are the folks I’d want to see in your lives.” — Eric Taylor, Head Coach

 

Despite popular portrayals of men as lone wolves, the fact is that men flourish best when they’re part of a team with a shared objective and purpose. Other guys are needed to push us to realize our full potential and to provide a helping hand when we fall short. Knowing you’re part of a group of guys who have your back gives you the confidence, feeling of belonging, and brotherhood we all seek.

The importance of teamwork is highlighted in FNL. On and off the field, the young footballers took on obstacles together. They’d often get together on an empty football field with a few beers in hand to toss the ball about and simply chat about life. They battled and disagreed at times, but whenever one of them needed help, the whole squad rallied behind him.

I can think of two particular incidents from FNL that demonstrate the importance of male companions in a man’s life. Vince Howard is the first. Vince is on the run from the police when we first meet him. Coach Taylor, on the other hand, recruits him to the football team, and his life changes forever. In only two seasons, we’ve seen him grow into a respectable young man. Vince’s transition was aided by Coach Taylor’s mentorship, but I believe Vince’s metamorphosis was aided even more by being surrounded by a bunch of excellent individuals.

Buddy Garrity, Jr. is the second example. Because he’s been behaving up, his mother sends him back to Texas from California. Buddy pushes his son to go out for the football team after discovering him in the aftermath of a major binge, thinking that it would help him turn his life around. Yes, it does. Buddy, Jr. is brought into the fold by the East Dillon Lions, who provide him with the feeling of belonging he craves.

Can’t Lose with Clear Eyes and a Full Heart

Coach Taylor yelling portrait.

I couldn’t close a Friday Night Lights essay without extrapolating lessons from Coach Eric Taylor’s famous phrase for his squad.

Can’t lose with clear eyes and a full heart.

So basic, but so deep. What does this imply? I believe it indicates that no matter what the score is on the scoreboard at the conclusion of the game, you can never lose if you can claim with a clean conscience (clear eyes) that you gave it your all (full heart).

In life, it’s the same way. As guys, our objective should be to be able to face oneself in the mirror every night and say we gave it our best. Even if things don’t turn out the way we planned, knowing you did all you could to achieve and did it with integrity gives you piece of mind.

Do you like Friday Night Lights? What manly lessons did you take away from the show?

 

 

The “friday night lights characters” are a group of people that were brought together by their shared experiences of living in Dillon, Texas. These characters have many life lessons to teach people about the importance of family and friends.

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