Television Without Pity
How <i>Friday Night Lights</i> Can Make You Care About Football

There was a time in my life -- a dark, regrettable time -- where I actually had to be convinced to watch Friday Night Lights. Despite everyone whose opinions I trusted telling me that I would love the show (they were so very right), I couldn't get past the idea that I wouldn't like anything that even remotely had to do with football, let alone high school football. I was the one kid on school trips who dreaded the umpteenth screening of Remember the Titans on the bus (now, if it had been Rudy, that would have been another story entirely) and I could name on one hand how many high school football games I actually attended. It was a world I never really connected to. Friday Night Lights changed all that.

It's not to say that I didn't watch football before FNL, it's just that I did it begrudgingly. I mean, what the hell else were you going to watch on a Sunday in a football household? Baseball had always been (and, honestly, still is) my main sport and the rabid cult fandom of football -- the Buddy Garritys of the world -- had always kind of freaked me out.

Now, yes, of course Friday Night Lights is about so much more than football: it's about love and friendship and small-town America and hope and tragedy and honor and life lessons and the perfect being that is Tami Taylor. But football was the driving force behind all of the characters in one way or another. It's what lead Julie to Matt; it's what forever changed the course of Jason Street's life; it's what got Tyra to leave Dillon as fast as her boots could take her (and what made Santiago apparently disappear into thin air); and it's what made Eric Taylor into Coach Eric Taylor. A sport, especially one like football, is never really just a sport.

Not only did Friday Night Lights help me understand and appreciate the technical aspect of football more than I ever had before, it was also as exciting as any real game I'd ever watched. When a state championship game was on the line, I held my breath with every tackle, every throw, every run and every kick. Mainly because I was worried about how it would take a toll on Grammaw Saracen, but also because it's a downright thrilling sport when it gets down to the wire.

Remember the old bit about how sports fans are essentially cheering for different laundry? That was never truer for Friday Night Lights viewers when they had to switch their dying allegiance from the Dillon Panthers (blue) to the East Dillon Lions (red.) While I never loved the newfound Lions the same way I loved the original, pre-McCoy Dillion Panthers, I still went wherever Coach went because football is as much about loyalty as it is about skill and discipline and teamwork.

I'm not saying that the frenzy around high school football in this country in particular is something to marvel at or even applaud (as much as I loved him, it's kind of crazy what Tim Riggins would get away with in school because he was a good football player and the health risks are frightening), but it's what's at the heart of the sport – of any sport, really – that gets us so invested. Football can sound like the least appealing topic in the world to someone, but I promise you, Friday Night Lights could turn even the biggest detractor into a fan. I should know, I'm one of the FNL converted.

In fact, I'd argue that FNL may not have had the same emotional impact had it been any other sport. When a character took a hit, you felt it, and the blood, sweat,and tears that goes into the world of high-pressure Texas football raised the stakes that much more. The strategy that goes into football made you appreciate the talent, insight and endearing on-field temper of Coach Taylor. It also showed how many opportunities it gives to students who may not have had them otherwise (see: Vince Howard) and how it can shape a community (let's all get together at Applebees after reading this, okay?).

While I don't get as wistful watching real professional football (college football is a different story) as I do watching old episodes of FNL, my appreciation for the game itself has certainly changed thanks to the show. Thanks, Coach. Enjoy Super Bowl Sunday, y'all.




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