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An Examination of Tim Riggins’s Age at Various Points of ‘Friday Night Lights’

When breaking down the timeline of TV’s most temporally ambiguous character, things can get a little complicated

Tim Riggins from ‘Friday Night Lights’ NBC/Ringer illustration

Because Taylor Kitsch has a new show premiering Wednesday night—Waco, a six-part miniseries about David Koresh’s 1993 standoff with the FBI—and because in our (full) hearts, Taylor Kitsch will always be Tim Riggins, we hereby declare January 24 to be Tim Riggins Day.

Friday Night Lights owes its cult following mostly to its big-heartedness, and the message of love and perseverance it espoused. Or something like that.

NBC via Getty Images

Let’s be real: This was a show about a brooding, horny, troubled, frequently drunk high school football player and his struggles to keep his Conan the Barbarian hair out of his piercing blue eyes in the swirling West Texas wind.

Tim Riggins, more than any other character, became the show’s metonym, because his combination of sad intensity and cheesy beefcake-itude struck the perfect middlebrow television chord—yes, this show is faintly ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean I’m not crying myself into severe dehydration. Riggins was such a hit that in 2012 alone, Hollywood spent almost half a billion dollars trying to make the Canadian actor who played him, Taylor Kitsch, into a movie star. (Both movies that he starred in, John Carter and Battleship, the latter directed by FNL creator Peter Berg, bombed.)

A decade after FNL premiered, and even as Kitsch returns to the Texas plains as David Koresh in Waco, Riggins remains Kitsch’s defining role. And what a complex, meaty role—Riggins was impulsive but deeply loyal, introverted but charismatic, prickly but himself deeply sensitive. It didn’t hurt that Kitsch looked like he’d been peeled off the cover of a bodice-ripper: Riggins was like a cross between a bison and an alt-country cover of Journey’s “Open Arms.”

Which is why women, from rally girls to cheerleaders to single moms from Lubbock to Waco to El Paso, were so enamored with him. Not only was Riggins smokin’ hot, striking that delicate balance between being pretty and smelling like boot leather and testosterone, but he was … temporally ambiguous. It was never exactly clear how old Riggins was. The FNL writers originally had him as a peer of senior quarterback Jason Street in Season 1, then retconned his age so he could stick around Dillon High School another two years. It didn’t help that Kitsch was 25 when the show premiered, and—unlike Zach Gilford, who started playing Matt Saracen when he was 24, but got away with it because he was scrawny—looked every day of it. In all, Tim Riggins could have been as many as four different ages at a given time: age according to the Season 1 timeline, when he’s in the same year as Jason Street; age according to the Season 3 timeline, when he’s in the same year as Matt Saracen; Taylor Kitsch’s actual age when that season aired; and the age you’d think Riggins actually was, based on how he looked and behaved.

Keeping all of that in mind, let us (try to) answer the question: At key moments of Friday Night Lights, how old is Tim Riggins?

Beginning of Season 1

Key events: Riggins watches his best friend get paralyzed, hooks up with his best friend’s girlfriend, and coins catchphrase “Texas Forever.”

This is some relatively low-stakes Riggins action, and you totally buy that someone—particularly someone who would be eating D-grade beef and sucking down creatine in a powerhouse Texas football program’s weight room—could be that big as a high school senior. Maybe Riggins had an early birthday, or went to pre-K, so he looked a little older than he was (though playing a power-running fullback with a Bryan Cox neck guard made his style of play seem a little more out of 1990 than 2006, by which time most real-life programs of Dillon’s caliber were going to the spread, if not the full-blown Air Raid).

Even so, Kitsch looked no more anachronistically beefy than Garrett Hedlund did in the movie version of Friday Night Lights two years earlier.

Season 1 Timeline Age: 17
Season 3 Timeline Age: 15
Taylor Kitsch’s Age: 25
Tim Riggins’s Apparent Actual Age: 19

End of Season 1

Key events: Riggins starts hooking up with Jackie, the next-door neighbor.

Here begins (as far as we know, at least) Riggins’s lengthy history with older women. Late in Season 1, he starts sleeping with Jackie (played by Brooke Langton, most famous for playing the love interest of a moody, long-haired football star in The Replacements) and befriends her young, fast-talking, football-obsessed son, Bo (played by Jae Head, most famous for playing a young, fast-talking, football-obsessed kid in The Blind Side).

Friday Night Lights contains numerous instances of age-inappropriate relationships, and a lonely single mom finding comfort in the arms of a readily available teen with big pecs and a driver’s license frankly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, but part of Riggins’s appeal is how easily he goes Full Stepdad with Bo—too easily for someone who, by the logic that Riggins graduates high school in 2009, is supposed to be at most 16 years old.

Season 1 Timeline Age: 17 or 18
Season 3 Timeline Age: 15 or 16
Taylor Kitsch’s Age: 25
Tim Riggins’s Apparent Actual Age: 23

Beginning of Season 2

Key events: Riggins collapses at practice, quits the team, goes crawling back to Lyla, moves in with the Taylors, bemusedly follows Street to Mexico to keep him from blowing all his money on some bizarre miracle spinal operation, saves Street from dying repeatedly.

Season 2 shows Riggins at his youngest and most childlike—he spends most of his time pining over either Jackie (who’s left him for Tim’s brother, Billy, a more age-appropriate Riggins), or Lyla, who’s gone and joined a megachurch and is now saving herself for Logan from Gilmore Girls. How he acts around girls—now that he’s dating girls again, and not grown women—is how you’d expect your average 17-year-old to act, if that 17-year-old has as few roots as Riggins did.

The exception is when Riggins tags along to Mexico for Jason Street’s weird shark stem cell surgery, which Street thinks will help him walk again. Parts of the trip aren’t exactly responsible—ditching school, for instance, or bringing the girl both of them are in love with along for the trip—but mostly this trip is Riggins in Stepdad Mode, but for his usually-much-more-responsible friend. Normally, Riggins is the Ernie to Street’s Bert, but Street is so desperate to walk again, he needs Riggins to keep him from making terrible mistakes: Blowing $10,000 on medically questionable surgery that might kill him, for instance, or jumping off a boat when he has limited use of his arms and legs.

Season 1 Timeline Age: 17 or 18
Season 3 Timeline Age: 16
Taylor Kitsch’s Age: 26
Tim Riggins’s Apparent Actual Age: 17

Middle-to-End of Season 2

Key events: Gets Matt Saracen day-drunk, moves in with weird drug dealer.

Riggins pulling poor, innocent little Matt Saracen out of school and taking him to a bar is—apart from his continued dalliances with single moms—the thing that makes Riggins seem older than he’s portrayed as being. Maybe Riggins doesn’t get carded because he looks old enough to be Saracen’s dad, or because he’s a star football player in a town where star football players get away with everything, or because there’s just no rule of law in Dillon.

But there are comfortable underage drinkers and then there are comfortable underage drinkers, and Riggins plops down with a pint with greater ease and sense of belonging than any member of the cast of Cheers. Maybe that’s because he’s actually in his 30s and he’s been going there after work every day for a decade.

Season 1 Timeline Age: 18
Season 3 Timeline Age: 16
Taylor Kitsch’s Age: 26
Tim Riggins’s Apparent Actual Age: 30

Season 3

Key events: Riggins takes over as starting tailback, finally gets together with Lyla, has an entirely normal senior year of high school.

In Season 3, after a year of living like a cross between Peter Pan and Jesse from Breaking Bad, Riggins settles down, goes to school, has a steady girlfriend, and plays football. He thinks about playing football and being a leader on the football team. He thinks about his girlfriend, and college, and whether he and his girlfriend ought to go to college together. It’s almost boring, Riggins having such mundane high school senior problems, but maybe in his third go-around as a high school senior (this is where his age gets retconned for the last time), he’s finally figured his shit out.

Season 1 Timeline Age: 19 or 20
Season 3 Timeline Age: 18
Taylor Kitsch’s Age: 27
Tim Riggins’s Apparent Actual Age: 18

Beginning of Season 4

Key events: Riggins quits college after about 10 minutes, goes back to Dillon, takes a job at his brother’s garage, sleeps with an older woman.

Riggins was never meant to go to college, and unlike Street and Billy, who love football so much they try to stay in the game after high school, it becomes clear that Riggins loved football less for its own sake than because of what it got him: girls, status, relationships. It’s refreshing that when the entire town is obsessed with high school football, one of the biggest stars can shed the game and become his own man.

Best of all, now that Riggins is out of high school we don’t have to pretend he had that revelation at age 18.

Season 1 Timeline Age: 20 or 21
Season 3 Timeline Age: 18 or 19
Taylor Kitsch’s Age: 28
Tim Riggins’s Apparent Actual Age: 23

End of Season 4

Key events: Riggins joins Billy’s chop shop, takes the fall for Billy when the cops break up the chop shop, becomes Becky’s surrogate dad, rebuffs Cheryl’s advances.

This is Riggins at his most mature and selfless, as well as his most criminal, since he goes along with Billy’s idea to earn some extra cash by parting out stolen cars. But even then, his motivations are pure—he wants to buy his own parcel of land. Land! The actual American Dream! Far from the boy governed by his urges we first met, Riggins is now positively Nixonian, probably because he’s aged about 30 years in four seasons.

But most of all, his maturity is defined by his newfound ability not to sleep with people—first Becky, who, while age-appropriate by the show’s timeline, becomes the second person to make Riggins go Full Stepdad. Then her mother, Cheryl, throws herself at Riggins, but he turns her down too, not wanting to complicate the ad hoc family the three of them have fallen into. A Riggins who can keep it in his pants doesn’t feel like Riggins, but between taking Becky under his wing and keeping Billy out of jail, he’s become a family man in his own way.

Season 1 Timeline Age: 21
Season 3 Timeline Age: 19
Taylor Kitsch’s Age: 28
Tim Riggins’s Apparent Actual Age: 38

End of Season 5

Key events: Riggins gets out of jail and builds his house on the land he’s obsessed with.

The other day, I found myself wondering which Friday Night Lights characters would’ve voted for Donald Trump. Despite his criminal history, Texas state law says convicted felons can register to vote after they’ve served their sentence and completed their parole or probation, which I have to imagine would’ve been over for Riggins by 2016. But I don’t think he’d have voted for Trump—not because of any political differences, but because I don’t think he’d bother to get his house in the woods wired for electricity, and if he did, the only thing plugged in out there would be a beer fridge. I imagine the Riggins of 2016 would be like the late-stage Rust Cohle, only with bulging, quivering muscles covering every inch of his body: go work at the bar, go home, drink, and keep to himself. It’s the simple, uncomplicated life Riggins always wanted. Texas Forever.

Season 1 Timeline Age: 22
Season 3 Timeline Age: 20
Taylor Kitsch’s Age: 29
Tim Riggins’s Apparent Actual Age: 42

Tim Riggins is the perfect fictional character in this world of reboots and sequels. Should television ever go back to the Friday Night Lights universe, Riggins could be a coach, a dad, or the neighborhood recluse—or they could just zap him right back to age 17 and start all over again. It worked every other time they dramatically altered his birth date.