Monday marks the 10-year anniversary of the series premiere of Friday Night Lights. Of course, of those 10 FNL years … only about half were televised. The other half have been left up to our collective imagination.
The Ringer recently uncovered a slew of documents containing story pages for the 2012–2016 years of Friday Night Lights. Whether or not the documents are factual, unfortunately, remains a mystery. But they are the closest we have come — and may ever come — to answering one of the truly nagging questions in television history:
It’s been 10 years since the characters of Friday Night Lights came into our lives, and five years since they left. Where are they now?
As 2011 turns into 2012, the marriage between Pemberton High School head football coach Eric Taylor and Braemore College dean of admissions Tami Taylor appears as strong as ever.
But, if you look closely, there are cracks in the foundation for the first time.
Coach Taylor, confused and hurt by how little anyone in the state of Pennsylvania cares about his football team, has struggled to adapt.
All of the little things he’d grown so accustomed to in Dillon are just … different in Philadelphia: When he yells, “Clear eyes, full hearts,” no one yells anything back. When he knocks on the doors of his players’ homes, unannounced, to chat about something important and give them fatherly advice, they say, “Wait, what? Why are you here? You could have texted before coming over. Or even better, called and not come over at all. You’re a football coach. This is extremely creepy. Please go away.” And worst of all: When he turns the radio dial in the car to find the daily drive-time talk show where locals are obsessing (he assumes) about next week’s Pemberton game, the hosts and callers only want to talk about some other high school team (“the Eagles”) that Coach has never even heard of from this other league people keep talking about called “the NFL” (it must be a really big league — 6A for sure). It just doesn’t make any sense. Honestly, nothing in Philadelphia does.
Before long, he grows resentful. Tami tries various remedies to get Eric out of his funk:
But nothing works.
By the end of the year, the Taylors’ marriage is on the ropes.
Around this same time back in Dillon, Tim Riggins gets pulled over in his pickup on suspicion of a DUI. Tim has been driving with a blood alcohol level of [it’s not a normal breathalyzer, you breathe into it and if you’re sober, it flashes a blue silhouette map of Texas with a thumbs-down in the middle and if you’re drunk it flashes a red silhouette map of Texas with a thumbs-up in the middle] red silhouette map of Texas with a thumbs-up in the middle. While putting Tim in handcuffs, the arresting officer makes the critical mistake of accidentally gazing into his eyes.
The officer’s eyes glaze over as if he’s under a spell. “You’re way too hot for me to arrest you,” he says. “Honestly, you’re the one who should be arresting me.”
Tim is subsequently released and all charges are dropped. As a reward for enduring the inconvenience so hotly, the town of Dillon offers Riggins a key to the city. During the key-giving ceremony, the mayor of Dillon — Buddy Garrity — makes the critical mistake of accidentally gazing into his eyes.
Buddy’s eyes glaze over as if he’s under a spell. “You’re way too hot for me to be the mayor,” he says. “Honestly, you’re the one who should be mayor.”
Mayor Garrity resigns, effective immediately, and appoints Tim Riggins (per a press release) the “hot, new mayor of Dillon.” At just 22, Riggins is the fourth-youngest mayor in Texas history.
Hearing the good news, a bunch of old friends make the trip back to Dillon to attend Tim’s swearing-in as Mayor Riggins.
Landry Clarke (Tim’s old tutor and teammate) and Tyra Collette-Clarke (Tim’s old girlfriend), recently engaged, fly in from overseas. Landry remains the frontman for Crucifictorious — a popular speed-metal band, though their sound has mellowed some over the years. Now more of a beards-and-suspenders roots rock band, Crucifictorious is coming off of their biggest success to date: the multi-platinum, best-selling, Grammy Album of the Year–winning, radio-conquering instant classic, Killed a Guy Once, IDK, It Was the Writer’s Strike, We Got Away With It — an emotionally harrowing concept album about two high school kids who kill some random guy because they don’t have any better ideas.
The events of the album are said to closely resemble a murder that happened in Dillon about five years earlier. No charges were filed — and the de rigueur true-crime nature of the album’s narrative, combined with the melodic sensibility of its songwriting (particularly on smash lead-single “Fucking Killed Him, Just Picked Up a Pipe and Bludgeoned Him Twice in the Head, Eventually I’ll Become a Field Goal Kicker”), made it an overnight sensation. Tyra is in med school. They’re happy.
Also making the trip back to Dillon for the ceremony: Lyla Garrity, Tim’s ex-girlfriend, now an aspiring actress; Smash Williams, Tim’s former teammate and rival, now the starting running back for the Dallas Cowboys; Jason Street, Tim’s best friend, still a sports agent in New York; and Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor, Tim’s married friends from Chicago. Julie is still finishing up college, while Matt is still an … art … something.
The ceremony is lovely. Afterward, everyone heads over to Mayor Riggins’s house for a party. When they arrive, though … someone is already there.
Unbeknownst to Landry and Tyra, Dillon PD have been waiting for them to come back to Texas for months. In the time since the Crucifictorious album became a hit, internet detectives and media spotlight have put the pressure on Dillon’s police department to reopen the “guy that got murdered five years ago” case. And with too much scrutiny on them now to sweep the case under the rug, the department makes a decision: They will arrest Landry Clarke and Tyra Collette on sight.
They do just that.
“You should take the offer, Coach.”
Coach Taylor is sitting across the table from the only friend he has in the entire city — Vince Howard. (Vince, Coach’s former QB at East Dillon, has left football behind and is now a world champion boxer based out of Philadelphia.)
They are at dinner discussing whether or not Coach Taylor should take the University of Florida’s offer for him to be their new head football coach. Florida has heard that Coach is unhappy in Philadelphia and — having had their advances rebuffed by Coach Taylor before — are determined to get their man. Florida is appealing to Coach Taylor because he has a lot of family in the area: His parents own an idyllic seaside hotel with a dark past in the Florida Keys, and his brothers and sister are all down there as well.
“You sure, Vince? Leaving my wife and daughter, moving to Florida — this doesn’t really feel very in-character for me.”
“Yeah, Coach. These are reunion episodes — nothing is ever quite the same. Just do you.”
Coach Taylor takes the offer. The Taylors officially separate, and he moves out later that month.
Devastated by the split, Tami decides to shake things up. She quits her job as dean of admissions and — on a total whim — decides to pursue her lifelong dream (that no one even knew about): moving to Nashville and becoming a country singer.
Baby Gracie, now 6, tries to talk her out of it. “Mom,” she begs. “This is crazy. I don’t want to move. Also you literally can’t sing.”
“I don’t know,” Tami replies. “It feels like I can.”
Landry and Tyra are convicted of first-degree murder in the “guy that got murdered five years ago” case. They are both sentenced to life in prison.
After reuniting at the swearing-in ceremony, Tim and Lyla begin to date again back in Dillon.
One day, when they’re in the neighborhood, the two decide to surprise Lyla’s dad — former mayor Garrity — with a quick visit to his car dealership. As they arrive, Buddy is at the bitter end of a hard sell. An older couple has been going back and forth with him about potentially buying a car all morning. Now, after hours of haggling, they’ve decided to walk away. They’re about to part ways when Tim and Lyla walk in the door. Buddy greets them, hugs them both, and then — just to be polite — introduces them to the couple.
“I want you to meet Lyla, my daughter,” he says, as Lyla shakes hands with the couple. “And her boyfriend, mayor Tim Riggins.” At this point the couple makes the critical mistake of accidentally gazing into Tim’s eyes.
Their eyes glaze over as if under a spell. “You’re way too hot for us not to buy this car,” they say in unison. “Honestly, after we buy it we’d like to give it to you.”
Tim laughs awkwardly and says, “No, you should definitely buy it for yourselves.”
They then turn to Buddy and tell him, “We’ll take it.”
Tim and Lyla exchange a few more pleasantries with Buddy and the older couple, then walk out the door.
“What the hell was that?” Lyla asks Tim, half amused, half bewildered.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Tim says. “But I think I might be so hot that it’s a superpower.”
“OK, Mayor Riggins,” Lyla says, now three-quarters amused.
“No — I’m serious,” Tim says. “I think all I have to do is gaze at something, make eye contact with it, and then it’s like I’m so hot that it becomes a superpower, and these weird and inexplicable things happen. Like, my hotness … just … overwhelms people.”
“That, Tim Riggins, is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my life.”
“I agree — but I’m telling you, it’s the truth.”
“Well,” Lyla says, humoring Tim. “Let’s try out this new superpower of yours on some other things then.” She looks in her purse and takes out a bottle of water. “OK, Super Riggins — you’re up. Gaze at this warm, half-empty bottle of water.”
Tim blushes and laughs, then jokingly gazes at the bottle.
It instantly glazes over as if under a spell. “You’re way too hot for me to be a half-empty bottle of water,” it says. “Honestly, I should be an ice-cold beer.” The bottle of water then transforms into an ice-cold beer and teleports into Tim’s hand.
“Holy shit,” Lyla says, swearing for the first time. “Do you realize the ramifications of a superpower like this? Tim, your hotness could … create world peace, or reignite the economy, or cure medical conditions, or — ”
“Wait, Lyla. Do you really think I could … cure people of things with my hotness?”
“Tim — you just turned a warm bottle of water into a cold bottle of beer. Yes, I think it’s possible.”
“What’s up, Six?”
Jason Street is in midtown Manhattan, about to leave the offices of Middle-Period FNL Plot Shenanigans & Partners (his sports agency — one of the most high-powered in the world) for the day, when he hears a familiar voice and turns around.
“Tim!” It’s Riggins — in the flesh. Jason hasn’t seen his best friend since last year’s swearing-in ceremony. “What brings mayor Tim Riggins to the great city of New York?”
No one will even give Jason Street a look. Not a tryout, not a private workout, not a chance to walk on — nothing.
It’s been over a year since Tim Riggins’s hotness cured him of his paralysis on that magical afternoon in New York. It’s been a year of relearning: how to walk, how to run, how to throw. And it hasn’t been easy. But by the summer of 2014, Jason Street — still only 25, though eight years removed from his last meaningful snap — thinks he’s ready to play football again.
There’s just one small problem: He’s called up every college in the nation, from DI to DIII. And no one is willing to take the risk of having Jason Street, a year removed from paralysis, as their quarterback. Feeling lost and discouraged, Jason calls up an old friend who has been through his own share of college rejections: Smash Williams.
“I just want to play football, Smash. You know me. That’s all I care about. I just want a chance to play football again.”
“Street — my dude. You should have called me months ago. Why don’t you just come up to Dallas and we’ll set you up for a private workout with the Cowboys? Not an official tryout or anything … but you can just come by, throw the ball around for our coaches, and they’ll see what you’ve got.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, of course. Texas forever.”
“But what about my neck? And all of the medical risks?”
Smash laughs. “Street — this is the NFL. No one cares about that kind of stuff here.”
“That’s amazing,” Jason says, overjoyed. “Thanks so much, Smash. Texas forever.”
Coach Taylor amasses an 11–2 record in his first season at Florida, including an SEC East title and a win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. He also kills his older brother in a complicated cocaine and human trafficking scandal. He is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
After a few months of good behavior in the Florida system, Coach gets transferred to a prison in Texas. He is introduced to his new cellmates: Landry Clarke and Tyra Collette.
Tami — now going by the stage name “Rayna James” — becomes a best-selling country singer almost overnight. Her first single, the upbeat guitar rocker “Pinot Grigio,” climbs to no. 4 on the charts. Her second single, the searing piano ballad “Merlot,” goes all the way to no. 1.
When news gets around that Tim Riggins, the mayor of a small town in Texas, may have cured someone of paralysis just by being really hot, the president of the United States invites him to Washington.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. President,” Tim says, shaking the president’s hand.
“The pleasure’s all mine, Tim,” says the president, who then makes the critical mistake of accidentally gazing into Tim’s eyes.
The president’s eye glaze over as if under a spell. “You’re way too hot for me to be president,” he says. “Honestly, you should be president. I officially impeach my vice president and make you vice president, and resign as president, making you president.”
Tim is sworn into office later that night as the president of the United States of America. Days later, he marries Lyla Garrity, who becomes first lady.
“It’s next man up — that’s our mantra. This is an unfortunate situation, but football can be cruel sometimes. And we’re going to try to make the most of it.”
Jason Street is standing at his locker in AT&T Stadium, holding court for some reporters. The Cowboys have just beaten the Seahawks, 30–28, to clinch a playoff berth. But it came at a cost: Their starting quarterback, Tony Romo, has gone down with a season-ending collarbone injury. Jason Street — who only joined the team midseason as an emergency quarterback; who hadn’t previously played an NFL down in his entire life; and who, in one of the most heartwarming stories in sports history, has managed to come back from a critical high school neck injury to play pro football — came in for the injured Romo and led Dallas to victory in relief.
This, like it or not, is the new reality the Cowboys face: If they are going to go anywhere in this year’s playoffs, then it will have to be on the back of a local kid from Dillon, Texas, with zero career NFL starts.
President Tim Riggins is staring wistfully out his bedroom window onto the White House lawn. Out of the corner of his eye, off into the distance, he sees a group of protesters holding up signs and shouting what sounds like “Free Landry.” President Riggins calls in his chief of staff.
“Those protesters — what’s that all about? ‘Free Landry’? Is there something I should know about?”
“No, sir. They’re shouting ‘Free Landry’ — as in, Landry Clarke, the jailed lead singer of the popular speed-metal band Crucifictorious. Frankly I would classify them more as roots rock now, though in many ways one might argue that all notions of genre are collapsing into each other. For example — ”
“Oh my god, you’re the worst, shut up. And did you just say … Crucifictorious? That’s my friend Landry’s band. I saw them play a great set in the 11th episode of Season 1, titled ‘Nevermind.’”
“Landry got arrested outside my house a few years ago at a party, but I figured it was just, I don’t know, standard rock star stuff. Are you telling me that was for … murder?”
“Yes, Mr. President. That’s correct. Landry Clarke is currently rotting away in a maximum security Texas prison, along with Tyra Collette and Eric Taylor.”
“We have to use a presidential pardon on all of them.”
“Sir, we can’t. Pardoning three of your friends for murder convictions … it would be political suicide.”
But President Riggins stands strong.
“I don’t care. Get it done. Texas forever.”
Tami Taylor becomes disillusioned with the country music industry after her third single, the slinky, mid-tempo torch song “Cabernet Sauvignon,” fails to chart. She decides that she will go on one last tour and then retire.
As part of the agreement attached to their presidential pardons, Coach, Landry, and Tyra have promised to remain in the state of Texas. And while they’re grateful they’re no longer in prison, life on the outside is a major adjustment.
Coach Taylor calls up some lower-tier football schools about any possible staff positions, but it turns out that no one, not even a lower-tier school, wants to hire somebody who definitely murdered his brother in cold blood as part of a cocaine and human trafficking scandal. After months of rejected inquiries, Coach Taylor is ready to give up. He figures that his career as a coach is probably finished.
But then one day, when all hope seems lost, he gets a phone call from an old friend.
It’s Smash Williams, his former star tailback at Dillon, now the star tailback for the Dallas Cowboys. Smash explains that the Cowboys are in a bit of a predicament: They’re about to head into the playoffs having to install a brand-new offense tailored to their backup (and now starting) quarterback, Jason Street.
“You’re Jason’s QB-whisperer, Coach,” Smash explains. “You’re the only coach he’s ever known. We need you to come on for the playoffs as our new offensive coordinator. And we need you to build us an offense that we can win a Super Bowl with.”
Coach Taylor is overjoyed, but he also has reservations. “Smash, I’m flattered, and I’d love to — but won’t the Cowboys care that I murdered my brother in cold blood as part of a cocaine and human trafficking scandal? Sorry, I meant allegedly murdered.”
Smash laughs. “Nah, coach, it’s not like that. This is the NFL. I’m telling you — as long as you can add football value, they really don’t care what you’ve done. It’s all good.”
The Cowboys hire Eric Taylor as their new offensive coordinator later that week.
Tyra and Landry are also out of prison now and like Coach, they are trying to get back on their feet. Tyra goes back to practicing medicine. Landry releases a dark, minimalist solo album that he wrote in prison, I’m Honestly Not Sure If We Talk About the Writer’s Strike Enough — Like … Those Were Some Weird Times, to massive sales and lukewarm reviews.
“I’m leaving you.”
Tim Riggins’s life is falling apart. In the span of one year, he has been forced to resign the presidency (the backlash to his use of three presidential pardons on friends convicted of murder was swift and severe), move back to Texas, and now hear that Lyla wants a divorce. That Lyla Garrity, the former First Lady of the United States and his wife of over a year, is leaving him.
“Lyla … why?” Tim asks. “This makes no sense.”
But Lyla holds firm: “This makes a lot of sense — and you know it does. I’ll always love you, Tim, and I still want us to remain friends. But you know why this has to happen.”
“No, Lyla — I don’t. Why?”
“Because you’re in love with someone else. You always have been.” Tim tells Lyla he has no idea what she’s talking about, but it doesn’t matter. She puts an end to the conversation, kisses him on the cheek, says goodbye, and walks out the door.
Tim is reeling and decides to compensate for the pain by throwing himself back into the only thing he really knows how to do: fail upward by being hot.
As an ex-president, of course, he has his pick of any job he wants. Riggins decides to replace the departing Roger Goodell (ousted after violating his own personal conduct policy, appealing the ruling, overseeing the appeal in his capacity as commissioner, before finally recommending — and then accepting — a lifetime ban from football) and become the NFL’s newest commissioner.
“I really hope she plays ‘Pinot Grigio’ — that’s my favorite song.”
Landry and Tyra are at the last show of the last tour of Rayna James’s — Tami Taylor’s — career. And she doesn’t disappoint: It’s one of the best concerts that Landry (who has played a show or two himself) has ever seen.
Landry is so impressed, in fact, that he can’t help but approach Tami — his old high school guidance counselor — backstage after the show with a proposition.
“Mrs. Taylor, that was so great. I know this is your last official concert … but I was wondering if you might think about playing one last gig — as my special surprise guest when I play halftime at this year’s NFC championship game in Dallas.”
It’s halftime of the NFC championship game. The Philadelphia Eagles (it turns out they aren’t a high school team — “I guess that makes more sense,” Coach Taylor thinks to himself, sometime around the first quarter) are beating the Dallas Cowboys, who are led by the struggling one-two punch of quarterback Jason Street and tailback Smash Williams, 24–7.
Coach Taylor, in an unconventional move, decides that he won’t go back into the locker room with the team at the half. He knows exactly what his offense has to do in the second half if they’re going to win — and he knows they know, too. Talking about it isn’t going to change anything. So instead, Coach stays out on the field and tries to take his mind off of things by watching Crucifictorious — a speed-metal band fronted by his former player at Dillon, Landry Clarke, though they’re actually more roots rock now — play the halftime show.
And then, at the end of the performance, something incredible happens.
“For our last song — a cover of ‘Merlot,’ one of my all-time favorite ballads — we’d like to bring out a special surprise guest, Rayna James.”
Coach Taylor can’t believe what he’s seeing. It’s Tami.
“This song is about the love of my life: merlot. But it’s also about my ex-husband, whom I absolutely forgive for everything, and love very much.”
Coach Taylor then watches Tami sing “Merlot” and he realizes what an idiot he was. Why did he abandon the love of his life … just to go coach football in fucking Florida? OK, no, that’s not fair. Florida was dope. But still: Why did he do that?
“The Cowboys win! The Cowboys win! The Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl!”
Dallas wins the NFC championship game against the Eagles on a brilliantly designed Hail Mary — a beautiful throw from Jason Street right into the outstretched arms of a heroic Smash Williams.
Everyone celebrates on the field. On national television, commissioner Riggins presents Street with the George Halas trophy, given each year to the NFC champion.
“You earned this, Six,” Tim tells Jason. “And also, I love you — I always have.” They embrace, passionately kiss, and walk off the field holding hands.
Watching Tim and Jason kiss makes Landry and Tyra kiss.
Watching Landry and Tyra kiss makes Smash and Lyla (who is there) kiss.
Watching Smash and Lyla kiss — on a little TV at some terrible art show in Chicago, probably — makes Julie and Matt kiss.
And then finally, finally, there is coach Eric Taylor. He’s standing in the end zone at AT&T Stadium, smiling, celebrating, and somehow — across the entire stadium, through the thick of the crowd and the confetti raining down — seeing her. Seeing Tami. And seeing Tami see him.
Coach and Tami begin the 50-yard run toward each other. They seem to move in slow motion, in a moment that feels like forever: pushing away fans, reporters, players, balloons — everything and everyone in their path. At long last, they meet at the 50-yard line.
“I’m sorry,” Coach says. “I was an idiot.”
“That’s OK,” Tami says.
“I forgive you. Just please promise me one thing: that you didn’t actually kill your brother in Florida.”
“No, definitely not,” Coach promises. “The whole thing … it was a big misunderstanding.”
“You mean a misunderstanding as in you were wrongly accused, or a misunderstanding as in you killed him because of a mis — ”
“I love you, Tami.”
“I love you too, Eric.”
Coach and Tami kiss for minutes on end, right there on the 50-yard line in the center of the big Texas star.
“Clear eyes, full hearts,” Coach whispers.
Tami smiles. She actually has no idea where Gracie is, but she’s sure it’s fine. Six-year-olds are resourceful, and Dallas is pretty safe. And besides, she can just tell: Everything will be fine now. She smiles again, and whispers back.