Want to get caught up in the power of football, but don’t actually like football all that much? Watch these five great episodes of Friday Night Lights instead!
Football season is always exciting to me because it gives me an excuse to do one of my favorite things: rewatch my favorite episodes of Friday Night Lights. It gives me the chance to feel like I care about football without actually caring about football.
Because while I’ve never been particularly enamored with football as a sport, Friday Night Lights is one of my all-time favorite shows because of the way it so effortlessly and flawlessly combines compelling storylines, realistic teenage portrayals, and some of the best characters ever to grace our television screens — all set against a backdrop of high school football.
So, if you’re looking for a way to cheer for a football team but aren’t all that interested in the ones that are playing on any given Sunday, throw on these five episodes instead and cheer on the kids from Dillon, Texas.
‘Pilot’ – 1×01
For years, my sister had been telling to watch Friday Night Lights because I would love it, and as is customary for little sisters, I had dutifully ignored her because I was “0% interested in a show about football” (seriously, this is always what I told her).
After watching this pilot episode, I not only had to tell her just how right she was about me loving it, I was angry with myself for having spent so long not watching this amazing show.
This pilot episode is not only better than most movies I’ve watched, I fully consider it to be the best pilot episode ever produced.
It introduces us to all the major players of West Dillon and has us almost immediately fall in love with them all. It shows us just how real Dillon, Texas is despite being a fictional town. And it highlights both how important football is to the town and all its inhabitants, while also making us understand that this show isn’t really a show about football.
Or at least, not a show that’s just about football.
This episode manages to make us fall in love, break our hearts, raise us up and keep us wanting more — all in one perfect hour.
‘Wind Sprints’ – 1×03
The pilot episode ends with a miraculous last minute win after a tragic accident. But that one win doesn’t solve everyone’s problems, nor does it foretell exactly what the rest of the team’s season will be like.
This episode begins with an crushing and, frankly, embarrassing win for the West Dillon Panthers. They’re lost without their star quarterback, lacking motivation and cohesion, wondering if they can be a team without their lead quarterback.
Luckily, Eric Taylor is the world’s greatest coach (I have no real metric for this, I just feel like I know this to be true in my heart) and knows exactly how to get his team back in fighting shape: wind sprints and a motivational speech.
He has the team run sprints in the middle of the night while it’s pouring rain and the players are slipping and sliding in the mud. There, he imparts the important life lesson that their team is not any one person — it is a team.
This episode is basically guaranteed to make you cry at least twice if you have any sort of heart: once when Smash sounds the rallying cry of “clear eyes, full hearts” to get his teammates motivated and again when Eric takes a moment to tell Riggins that Jason’s accident wasn’t his fault.
It’s an emotional episode that showcases the importance of both coaching and teamwork, while also making you love all these characters even more.
‘State’ – 1×22
Ok, I know there are a lot of season one episodes on this list, but I honestly feel like season one of Friday Night Lights is one of the best first seasons of any television show, ever. Sometimes when I need cheering up, I just sit around and rewatch this season and I feel immediately better.
This episode has all the hallmarks of a truly great Friday Night Lights episode: Tami and Eric being true marriage goals, realstic emotional conflict, a patented Eric Taylor motivational speech.
And of course, a close game that requires some last minute miracle to win.
Which, thankfully, the Panthers do despite the rough first half, the uncertainty of whether Coach Taylor will stay or go as a Coach, the injury that plagues Smash.
And yes, maybe the win is a little bit unbelievable — but the writing on this show is so good that you never really think of the win as being anything but earned, you never feel anything but pure elation when the Panthers score that final winning touchdown.
And of course, I always cry when Eric walks into the Panthers locker room at the end of the episode and the entire team gives him a standing ovation.
Dammit, Friday Night Lights, how are you so good?
‘Thanksgiving’ – 4×13
Honestly, I don’t know enough about football to really know if any of what happens in this episode football-wise is likely or even plausible. My gut tells me that Landry kicking a 45 yard field goal (or 72, if you’re Landry talking to Matt) to win the game probably isn’t all that realistic.
But damn, does it make for a great, uplifting hour of television.
The East Dillon Lions, of course, aren’t anywhere near going to the playoffs, which was always the focus for the West Dillon Panthers for the last three seasons. However, what we’ve gotten to see up to this point in the season is the East Dillon team actually becoming a team despite how difficult the season was for most of the characters, both personally and as a football team.
To see them pull off a nigh miraculous win against the Panthers — thus ruining the Panthers playoff chances — was emotionally satisfying to watch and ended the season on a real high note.
‘Always’ – 5×13
I’m choked up all over again just thinking about this episode.
After five seasons and 76 episodes, we had to say goodbye to Dillon, Texas forever.
But not without one final football game, one final miraculous win, one final throw of the ball that —
Well, that we don’t ever really see land.
The finale showed us that while football was and is important to Dillon, Texas and to all the people we’ve come to love in and from Dillon — it’s all the moments that happen around and after football that matter the most.
We get to see what happens to all the beloved characters after the game is over, catching up with the Taylors in their new lives, my OTP Julie and Matt happily engaged, and all of our faves living out theirs 8 months after the ball landed. The show wraps up with a satisfying conclusion for the characters, the town of Dillon and the team.
And yes, while that final throw of the football ends in a win, we also come out of this final episode knowing what the show has told us all along:
Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.
Texas forever, y’all.