It has been 10 years since Pete Berg’s pilot for Friday Night Lights first hit the air, and five years since its final bow, but like the ups and downs of the small-town football team, the show perseveres in the hearts and minds of a huge fan base. The same goes with the bond between the actors. Though they have stayed in touch over text and email, for the first time since filming the last episode, a group including Taylor Kitsch, Zach Gilford, Minka Kelly, and Aimee Teegarden teamed up together to run a recent Spartan Race with the Marriott Rewards team. “I haven’t seen the rest of the cast in five years, but the relationships that we made on the show are lifelong,” says Kitsch, who portrayed line-pushing fullback Tim Riggins. “I remember Kyle Chandler taking me aside and making sure I realized how special it was. ‘We’re very lucky to be here and a part of this,’ he would say.” The advice stuck, and the cast still remembers those days fondly. So, since those movie rumors have been put to rest (“It’s just not going to happen,” says Kitsch), we looked back at some of the best moments, and got some insight from a few of the alum.
Pilot: Season 1, Episode 1
“Shooting that pilot is one of those experiences that I’ll never forget,” says Kitsch. “When it was done, Pete brought a bunch of us to his house to watch it.” Perhaps one of the most gripping pilots in history, it set a solid foundation for the dramatic seasons that were to follow. The audience was left breathless when Jason Street, played by Scott Porter, is laid out with a traumatic injury on the field, requiring buzz saws to cut him out of his helmet. Everything culminates in the first of many inspired speeches by Kyle Chandler’s Coach Taylor, fiercely delivering the line: “We will all fall.” Second-string quarterback Matt Saracen, played by Gilford, comes in to help the team soldier on to victory.
Wind Sprints: Season 1, Episode 3
Coach Taylor’s methods for breaking down his overly boastful team are somewhat predictable, but effective. These methods include verbal abuse and caravanning the crew out to an isolated field where they are forced to run brutal wind sprints uphill during a fierce rainstorm. “That man knows how to inspire a group,” says Gilford. The Dillon Panthers finally show their true colors when star running back Smash Williams inspires them to start chanting their now iconic motto: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
Homecoming: Season 1, Episode 7
Jason Street’s return to the field as honorary captain of the Panthers was as touching as moments come. Relegated to a wheelchair after the injury, and without full use of his hands yet, the crowd gives him a hero’s welcome as he bursts through the team’s banner. His best friend Riggins helps him around the stadium before stepping up to help their team to victory, and then in an ultimate gesture of respect gives him the game-day ball. “I love you like a brother. Like a brother, Six,” he says.
May the Best Man Win: Season 2, Episode 15
Nothing was potentially more devastating than the thought of Smash Williams losing his dream college scholarship due to a reprehensible race-related fight in a movie theater. Especially after he has voiced his concerns about being his family’s “meal ticket.” So when Coach Taylor helps orchestrate an unexpected offer from another school — from a coach who has admired his career since the start — there is an incredible sense of fulfillment, and the moment hits home when Williams delivers the good news to his adoring mother: “I’m going to college, Momma.” Coach has a less shining moment when he nearly gets into fisticuffs with Tami’s ex, played by series creator Pete Berg.
New York, New York: Season 3, Episode 8
From the beginning, one of the foundations of the show was the friendship between Tim Riggins and Jason Street, which is what made it so devastating when Street announces that he wants to move to New York City to be with his son and girlfriend. “Why would you want to leave Texas?” asks Riggins incredulously. It’s a sentiment that the actor who plays him agrees with; Kitsch still lives in Austin despite the calls from Hollywood. But being the true wingman that he is, Riggins tags along to the Big Apple and helps him get a job as a sports agent.
Underdogs: Season 3, Episode 12
Just as they’re heading into the State Championship, Coach Taylor’s team is falling apart due to drama with the family of freshman star quarterback J.D. McCoy. Eventually he comes to his senses, benches McCoy, and sends out Saracen, who almost leads the Panthers to an incredible comeback. Despite a tremendous effort, they still lose. “The only time that Matt really got to be quarterback is when there was nobody else around to step up!” remembers Gilford, laughing. Kitsch remembers the episode fondly, especially his last moment on that field. “When he runs out on the field with his arm in the sling was especially moving for me to play,” he says.
Thanksgiving: Season 4, Episode 13
Even with all of his “bad boy“ posturing, Tim Riggins knew how to come through for a loved one, especially his brother Billy when he volunteers to take the fall after local police find out about an illegal chop-shop operation they’re running out of their garage. “I’m still best friends with Derek Phillips, who played Billy Riggins,” says Kitsch. “We really had a great time on the show, especially when we got to work together. We didn’t really need a script because we could just talk and come up with something great.” Season Four was a standout for the Riggins brothers, and also shows that you don’t have to act right all the time to be a good guy, just when it counts.
Kingdom: Season 5, Episode 5
There are few better sports moments than when a team finally comes together. Almost as satisfying as it is for Coach Taylor, who secretly listens in on his player's hotel-balcony shenanigans from his own room's balcony below while overnighting for an away game against rivals Kingdom. Michael B. Jordan expertly plays Vince Howard, whose talents are finally fully utilized to win the game. Encouraged by the victory, Coach lets the crew know they are on the right path: "We're getting there. Slowly but surely, we're getting there."
Always: Season 5, Episode 13
Ending a series filled with emotional impact and poignant writing is no easy task, but when it came to the finale, Berg and the FNL writers did not drop the ball. One of the most endearing aspects of the series was always the relationship between Coach Taylor and wife, Tami, played earnestly by Connie Britton, and their enduring love is showcased during his move to a new team. Tim Riggins sets the foundation for a new beginning himself, building a new house with his brother by his side. Saracen asks Coach for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “I always wished I had more scenes with Chandler,” says Gilford. Before their final goodbye, Howard has a special moment with Coach that resonates for us all: “You changed my life, Coach.”
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