After years of putting it off, I finally binge-watched Friday Night Lights. It was very likely the greatest month of my life. Sure, I rarely went out on weekends and my obligations as a friend and husband suffered, but that’s the price you have to be willing to pay if you want to get the most out of your FNL viewing experience. Naturally, I had to put together this list of the best characters. My criteria for a good character is basically just how much they moved the needle for me. Some were great, some were awful, and some I just included so I could rip them apart.
28. Billy Riggins
Brother, guardian, husband, father, coach, and an all around lowlife. The only reason he made this list is because his last name is Riggins. I knew from the moment I saw Billy planning a party for high schoolers in season one that he’d end up being a monumental Dillon shit box, and he didn’t disappoint. While he nobly attempted to raise his much cooler little brother and America’s bad boy, Tim, Billy went on to almost ruin the show for all of us when he got involved in copper wire theft like he was goddamn Bubbles from The Wire, and then decided to branch out and run a fucking chop shop. Who even does that?
I guess I’m supposed to feel sorry for Billy since he 1) Married his unstable girlfriend, and 2) Managed to knock her up with twins, and 3) Couldn’t hold a damn job. But any sympathy I had for this guy went out the window when he allowed Tim to become involved. In what was possibly the worst moment of the entire series, Billy’s half-ass chop shop got raided, and Tim ended up taking the heat because he’s an altruistic badass.
Oh, and Billy somehow managed to sneak his way onto the East Dillon coaching staff, a job that apparently only requires a pulse and vocal chords. Highlights from his tenure include obtaining zero respect from any of the players, and teaching the special teams unit a Polynesian war dance (where the fuck did he learn that?), which ultimately led to Buddy Jr.’s season-ending injury. There weren’t even Tongans in Dillon. Way to go, dumbass.
Billy’s greatest accomplishment was somehow managing to not ruin Luke’s life along with his when he took him under his wing briefly. That would’ve been too much to handle.
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27. Joe McCoy
Look at those shades, man.
After watching this Craig James-looking motherfucker introduce himself to Coach for the first time, I had a hunch I’d go on to wish terrible things for this guy. If leading a coup against the Taylor family while simultaneously being an overbearing sports dad that slaps his kid around doesn’t make you one of the worst, I don’t know what will.
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26. Street’s Tattoo Artist
I honestly didn’t want to include her because she nearly ruined the show for me, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t give her a few lines. The idea that Street would cheat on Lyla with this gal is less believable than Billy Riggins talking Coach Taylor into hiring him. I get that they had to develop Street’s character, but come on.
25. Voodoo Tatum
Come on, dude. You can’t just roll into Dillon with a horrible attitude and drop racial slurs on your teammates. I know it had to have been difficult relocating from New Orleans after Katrina, but my god, this dude sucked.
24. Coach McGregor
The man given the impossible task of filling Coach Taylor’s shoes. He came in hot riding Riggins’ ass and keeping Buddy away from practices, and that over-the-top style got him run out of town. You flew too close to the sun, Coach.
23. The Swede
The second most punchable character in the show behind super cocky JD McCoy. I’m still trying to figure out what this dude was all about, other than creating shitty music, being a lifeguard, and smoking grass. Julie fell hard for this doorknob, which didn’t surprise anyone at all.
22. J.D. McCoy
More punchable than the Swede but with a laser-rocket arm. You couldn’t help but feel for the kid since his dad was possibly the worst character in television history, but any sympathy for him went out the window when he took a run at Julie and tried to square up to Matt. I’m sure this turd ended up accepting an offer from Texas A&M only to lose out on the starting gig, bash heads with Sumlin and transfer to Sam Houston State.
21. Derek Bishop
Another Julie mistake. Like many, I hoped that Julie and Derek would run off together and leave Coach, Tami, Saracen, Dillon, and all of us forever. That’s not what happened, though, and Julie ended up getting her shit ruined by Derek’s wife in front of everyone. Nice job, Derek.
20. Riggins’ Dad
Pool shark and all-around piece of trash. This old codger wanted nothing to do with his kids, which worked out well for Tim (he became a legend) but not for Billy (he became the worst). Remember when he stole that video camera from the field house? What a clown.
19. Vince’s Dad
Despite the fact that he came way too close to ruining Vince’s football future by turning into an overbearing football dad (shoutout to Cam Newton’s pops), Vince’s old man deserves recognition for the beat down he put on that drug dealer. Vince may have become another casualty of the game had he not stepped in, and for that we’re grateful.
18. Julie Taylor
I will utilize a list format to avoid writing 1500 words on Julie Taylor.
1. Julie’s parents are a bonafide power couple, yet she’s still a walking Dashboard Confessional song.
2. She ran around on Matty with the mayor of Clown Town, the Swede.
3. Matt became a weird art dork because of her, IMO.
4. She boned Derek, the married T.A., who was just a real scuzz bucket.
5. That tattoo on the back of her calf.
6. She refused to move when her alpha father landed a college coaching gig.
Hypothetically, if Coach and Tami were to ever split up, it would definitely be because of something Julie did.
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17. Jackie Miller
Jackie made this list mainly because she was a hard working single mom who clearly did not give a fuck about social norms. She managed to take down both Riggins brothers, which, truthfully, wasn’t that hard to do. Tim pretty much stuck it to anything, and Billy was probably desperate to be Eskimo bros with Tim.
16. Bo Miller
The kid brought a smile to Tim Riggins’ face, which in turn brought a smile to my face. He loved football, too. Hope everything worked out for him in the end.
15. Smash’s Mom
She raised The Smash plus two other kids by herself. She had a good head on her shoulders and didn’t put up with any bullshit. When Smash was in the wrong, she let him know it. Respect.
How can you not have a soft spot for the local pageant queen whose mom is a bartender that’s catching pipe on the reg? And remember her dad, that 18-wheeler driving son of a bitch? How Becky didn’t make the leap from tit house cocktail waitress to full-blown pole dancer is beyond me. Becky came from similarly shitty living conditions as Tyra, but unlike the most overrated character in the show, Becky wasn’t out there scheming dudes.
Becky ends up with Luke, which is great, but we all know he was just a consolation prize in the Riggins sweepstakes.
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What’s not to like about Jess other than the fact that she demolished Landry’s heart and ran back to Vince? Nothing. We all knew that the Landry thing would be short lived because, you know, he’s Landry and the other guy is Vince Howard. But she was great and easily one of the most reasonable people in Dillon. Oh, and her dad owned a barbecue joint that was apparently so good he had to disappear for the entire final season.
Considering the fact that Tyra’s mom was a full-blown alcoholic who fell through glass tables, she turned out okay. I mean, aside from using Landry for his smarts, hooking up with Smash thus creating unnecessary drama in the Panther locker room with Rigs and having a fling with that world class douchebag cowboy, Tyra was cool.
I have to admit, she never had a chance to win our hearts while she was beefing with Lyla. When you’re beefing with Lyla (GOAT, IMHO), you’re going to take the L. But it was impressive seeing her end up at the University of Texas and not as a cam girl.
11. Jason Street
No one on FNL received more nut-kicks than the original QB1. As if his career-ending, and life-altering, injury wasn’t enough, Jason Street had to endure his best friend and certified hellraiser, Tim, making a successful run at his girlfriend, Lyla. The guy barrel-rolled off the back of a moving boat for fuck’s sake. What the hell was that about?
Then he got stuck rooming with Kurt, a guy who looked way too much like Steve Ott to not be Steve Ott, who introduced him to that blonde tattoo artist that he somehow fell for. She was like a West Texas 6 at best.
To make things monumentally worse, he falls in love with a waitress (again, not that hot), and defies science by fertilizing her eggs. Much like his backup QB, though, Street powered through and hopped on his grind.
You don’t put together a list of FNL characters and not have the guy who murked an attempted rapist in the top ten. That would be absurd. Initially Matty’s sidekick, Landry had all of the makings of a perennial role player before getting bumped up to the big show. This poor kid had to fight to get there, though, as he was led around by the balls by multiple Dillon vixens. Landry caught feelings for any girl that spoke to him for longer than two minutes.
Part of me wonders if I have Landry ranked this high solely because of his work in Breaking Bad. That could be the case, but I mean, the guy had a Christian death metal band and tried to date a hot lesbian. I think it’s safe to say that Landry’s character veered all over the road during that whole Season 2 thing, but at least we got to see him off a dude with a pipe and then cover it up. THUG LIFE.
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The definition of squared away. Everybody has a soft spot in their heart for Luke. Great athlete, hard worker, and he wasn’t afraid to provide the pipe to Becky. Was his pullout game poor? Of course, but kids will be kids. When Becky dropped the baby bomb on him, he handled it like a man just like you knew he would.
I have to admit, part of me thought the his wheels might come flying off after he ran to Billy for life advice, but Luke was too mentally strong to allow any of Billy’s bullshit rub off on him. Seeing Luke hop on that bus in fatigues made me proud. Thank you for your service, Luke.
8. Matt Saracen
QB2, QB1, “artist,” and the most beaten down boyfriend in Dillon the world. We all know that Matt didn’t have the God-given athletic ability, but what he did have was heart. And a real wet blanket of a girlfriend, Julie Taylor.
I could call Matt out for taking Julie back after her indiscretions with The Swede, or question how he was able to afford a sick apartment in downtown Chicago on his entry-level museum whatever-the-fuck salary, but I won’t. Matty had a lot going on, including a father that was on active duty whom he barely knew, a grandmother with dementia that needed his care, and boosters that were attempting quarterback coups every other season. Dude dealt with some shit.
Yeah, he had that dark period after high school when he delivered pizza and got into fights at high school parties, but he powered through it. Dating a high school chick postgrad is probably tough, especially when that high school chick is, without a doubt, the worst.
Would. Cheated on her paralyzed bae with his best friend, got really into church and had a brief fling with that little know-it-all radio host. Still would. Plus, her dad is Buddy, and being Buddy Garrity’s son-in-law would require nothing more than scotch drinking, golf, and closing the occasional deal he tossed your way. LEGEND.
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It’s tough to be objective about Vince. Like many, when I first laid eyes on Vince as he stepped out out of that police car, I was taken aback to season one of The Wire. It made me happy. Vince had a tough upbringing with his drug addict mom and a dad that was doing time for being a small town trap star. And to be honest, Vince was heading down the same road. Even when times were good, it was hard for Vince to escape the game.
In a move that was cryptic and gut-wrenching, Vince had to borrow money from Dillon scum lord, Calvin, in order to put his mom in a treatment facility. Yeah, you were happy she was getting the treatment, but you knew that Vince would be called upon to repay his debt. Luckily, Vince’s sketch father took care of that problem, and Vince flourished as QB1 of the East Dillon Lions. While Vince had to learn to become a team player and not let his ego be bigger than the team, he remained a fan favorite.
Remember when he just about knocked Luke’s block off in that fight?
His game-winning Hail Mary heave at the end of Season 5 will go down as the greatest moment in Texas High School Football History.
5. Tami Taylor
What can you say about Tami that hasn’t already been said by international scholars across the world? The answer is nothing. She’s smart, hot, driven, but most importantly, she’s powerful. This woman convinced Eric Taylor to leave Texas, and a team that was by all accounts going to be super, for Philadelphia. That’s like leaving the Premier League to play Major League Soccer. SMH.
I see you, Tami. You played it beautifully.
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I have no problem admitting I’m a Smash guy. I know he came out of the gates a little hot and beefed with Riggins, but we got to see the Smash grow up before our eyes, dammit. His swag was next-level. Yes, it rubbed people the wrong way, but you won’t survive long playing high school football in Texas if you’re not hitting the hole with confidence. You know what? I’m not 100% sure Smash wasn’t dabbing before Cam Newton, Hillary Clinton, random bros on TV, and everyone else on the planet was.
I think my favorite storyline in the entire series was Coach helping Smash come back from that knee injury. It was either that or when he weirdly started juicing. Probably the former. You know what? I shed tears of joy after Smash landed that scholarship. You came a long way, Brian. Go get that money.
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3. Tim Riggins
Like a Texas tornado blowing through the prairie, Tim Riggins blew through our lives with long hair, piercing eyes, and the faint smell of booze on his breath. The kid never had a chance. Son of a degenerate and brother of a buffoon, Tim won a place in our hearts with his functioning alcoholic swag and overall bad boy demeanor.
Tim’s refusal to play by the rules forced viewers everywhere into an ethical dilemma after he began a sultry love affair with recently paralyzed best friend’s lady. Were mistakes made? Sure. I’m sure if he could go back and do it over again, Rigs would’ve stuck to plowing every other piece of ass within a 30-mile radius of Dillon. In the end, we gave Tim a pass on that one, because honestly, you’d have to be a eunuch to pass up on Lyla.
I could sit here and opine on Tim doing time for Billy, or how disappointed I was when he bailed on college, but I think the best thing to do is to just remember how happy he looked when he was flipping houses with Street and Billy. Those were the days.
Hope you found what you were looking for, Tim.
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2. Coach Taylor
A leader of men. Other than Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, no fictional coach has made me want to run through a wall for him more. A family man that cared as much for the team as he did for his wet blanket of a daughter, Coach Eric Taylor brought out the best in players and coaches alike. Most of all, though, he stuck to his guns. Even though I knew he’d make a triumphant return to the Dillon Panthers, watching Coach Taylor waste away as a QB coach at Texas Methodist amidst all the politicking and bullshit was a hard pill to swallow.
But as we know, Coach came back to take the throne.
The turnaround Coach orchestrated in year one of his East Dillon Lions tenure was nothing short of legendary. I’d go as far as saying it was a greater turnaround than what Bombay did with the District 5 squad. Sure, they missed the playoffs, but that team learned how to compete. What Gordon did was heroic, but Coach Taylor started from scratch. That’s a debate for another day, though. Regardless, I still become fully torqued when he writes STATE on the whiteboard.
Honestly, the only reason Coach isn’t sitting atop this list is because of the Philly thing. I know we’re supposed to be in awe of his personal sacrifice for Tami’s career, but, uh, remember the Super Team? And how could he just roll out on Vince like that? Coach was one more big season away from landing a respectable gig at Texas State or U of H. What could’ve been. Texas forever, Coach.
Father of Lyla, drinker of scotch, and lover of the Dillon Panthers. Buddy is the epitome of a small town business power player. Smooth, charming, charismatic and loyal, Buddy was that friend of yours who you always want to be around, but your wife told you to steer clear of. Yeah, the man had his demons and threw away his marriage for Wyatt Earp’s main chick in Tombstone, but deep down you knew Buddy had a good heart.
Okay — yes, he got absolutely washed in a deal and lost his smoking hot daughter’s college money, but hey, shooters shoot and dealers deal. Whatever that investment was, I’m sure it would’ve benefitted the family. His heart was in the right place, probably.
Buddy was a guy’s guy. Remember when Buddy got booted from the house and was living out of the dealership? Those were some rough times, man. You just wanted to show up with a bottle of Turkey and talk about life with the guy. But just like you knew he would, Buddy rebounded. And I bet that bar he opened up hosted a who’s who of big swinging Ds from Dillon nightly.
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