Tim Riggins Going to Jail Is the Nicest Thing He Ever Did
I’ve got to be honest — I never watched the cult phenomenon that is Friday Night Lights when it was airing on NBC, despite being a fan of football movies and television series. I stumbled onto the show when I was looking for something to binge watch and it was one of the recommendations Amazon Prime gave me. It didn’t take long, but I found myself (like what seems like every other female who has watched the show) falling in love with actor Taylor Kitsch and his character — the show’s resident and beloved bad boy, brooding full-back Tim Riggins.
Tim Riggins was the character that was ideally not the Prince Charming archetype every girl dreamed of when they think of the hot high-school football player. He used the team’s rally girls (who fell for him just as easily as the viewers) to do his homework throughout his time on the Dillon Panthers. When his best friend Jason Street suffered a paralyzing injury in the pilot episode, he went and had an affair with Street’s girlfriend. He broke all the laws and drank underage and drove… constantly. Despite everything, he was one of the kindest people with a dignity that no one in the small Texas town cared to see in him. Even Coach Taylor saw it in Riggins, calling him “honorable” after he saved the coach’s daughter from a potential drunken sexual assault.
When you look past the greasy (yet somehow still sexy and swoon-worthy) looks and general indifference to the world around him, he still somehow found a way to obtain a positive outlook on life. He had plans. Well, they might have been mostly “football, beer, women and sex,” but he still had hopes despite all the events that occurred throughout his childhood and teenage years. He even voices those dreams in the pilot episode, where all he wants to do is “touch God” while playing his beloved sport. For a guy who lived by the mantras “let’s make some memories” and “no regrets,” I knew that he was destined to have more than what life gave him.
By Season Three, Tim yearns for a different life path than what was portrayed when we first met him. His new dream — living with the love of his life, Lyla Garrity, even going as far as applying to college for her. Tim, as we see, is never one to be self-centered, especially as he pushes Lyla to attend Vanderbilt instead of building a life with him and joining him in the fictional San Antonio State University. He wasn’t “going to be the guy to stop you from achieving your dreams.” He pushed his own dreams aside to allow someone to achieve theirs — a quality that shows up once again in what becomes the most important storyline for his character.
What I believe to be Riggins’ most redeeming quality eventually becomes his downfall for the rest of the series. After throwing away Lyla’s dream for him and drops out of college, he moves back to Dillon to find a new direction besides for football. When his brother Billy opens up a mechanic shop in the middle of Season Four, it seemed like things were turning up for the Riggins family. But it then becomes a secret (and illegal) chop shop, like the good brother that he was, Tim goes along with the scheme to help his brother make money for his future son, Stevie.
Tim despised the concept of breaking the law in this fashion — that much is obvious. But for his family, he was willing to destroy his hopes and dreams.
Eventually, their quick money scheme comes to light, with the police arriving at the garage with the intent of interrogating Tim about the chop shop. In that moment, Tim does the one thing that no one sees coming — he takes the fall for his family and helps Billy so that he can give his brother a stable life. Why does he decide to risk the opportunities he potentially could have? He realized that he could give something to his newborn nephew that he didn’t have.
“I had the opportunity to change something, to give something to Stevie we never had,” he tells Tyra Collette in the penultimate episode of the series. “I gave him his father.” For Riggins, it was more important to change the future for his family than it was to let his nephew experience the same heartbreak he experienced. He even tells Billy as he instructs his brother with the alibi: “You are all I have. You have a family now. You are a father and you need to be one.”
It’s a heart-tugging scene to watch as an audience member, seeing Tim Riggins at the end of Season Four sit in a jail cell with his brother, breaking down in tears over actions that he never wanted to be involved in, taking full responsibility for his brother’s wrongdoings. He is willing to lie for Billy in a way that if I was put in that position, I wouldn’t even know where to start. It broke my heart that he saw no way out but to do this extremity for his family. But this proves my theory that he has a huge heart of gold and holds such loyalty to those he loves that he’s willing to risk his life for the sake of others. I was in full-blown tears by the end, when he willfully goes (in tears, mind you) to turn himself into the authorities and do what’s right by his family.
Riggins does eventually leave jail after a ten-month sentence “on good behavior” in the final season of Friday Night Lights, but there is a strikingly different person than encountered in previous years. His optimism is now tinged with a dark anger that runs through his stance. Despite this, he’s still the same Tim Riggins that I fell in love with in the first season. Buddy Garrity (Dillon’s favorite booster and ex Lyla’s father) says it perfectly in the tenth episode of the final season: “This young man has done a lot of things wrong. He is not a bad man… This kid here has got more heart than almost any person I know.”
So maybe his good heart might have been the one downfall in this scenario. But the best part about Tim Riggins? No matter where his life goes, there’s always going to be “Texas forever” left within him.